Sometimes it's the music you love that hurts you the most. Jonathan Borges and Shannon Kennedy know this well. As the couple behind experimental duo Pedestrian Deposit, they’ve spent years plying L.A.’s underground noise scene, forging works of beautiful tension using sculpted feedback, modified field recordings and abused cello.
To the distracted ear, Pedestrian Deposit’s music might come across as cacophony. But in fact it’s both moving and carefully composed. Their new album, The Architector, is a 40-minute opus of lingering drone patterns and musique concrète mood swings. It took the duo five years to make, with many other projects going on in between. But if the process of putting this thing together proved exhausting for these two, well, that’s just how it goes.
“There’s always an element of struggle,” Borges says of the duo’s music with a chuckle. He’s sitting next to Kennedy atop a tree stump at an outdoor café in Griffith Park on a recent Tuesday afternoon. Birds are chirping, the sun blazes down from above, and amidst the gaggles of hiking families and happily barking dogs, they seem just a bit out of place as they delve into the nuances of their intense noise music.
“It’s pretty much crucial when we do a performance that we are connected in some way. Otherwise it fails,” Borges adds, looking friendly but serious with his steady gaze and long hair. “Sometimes it can be a little stressful when there’s a technical problem or whatever. When that happens we have to sort of guide each other. It’s speaking without words.”
Experimental noise doesn’t get a lot of attention from the world at large, but the genre — if that’s really the right word to use — harbors a vast ecosystem of obsessive gear-heads, studious academics, sonic misanthropes and theatrical freakazoids. Pedestrian Deposit borrows from many of these camps, but specialize in a high-contrast sound all their own. They’re disciplined but volatile, subtle but sadomasochistic, well-practiced but in thrall of ear-splitting iconoclasm.
They don’t perform often, which makes sense considering how draining their live shows can be. At their most recent local gig, held nearly a year ago at the downtown DIY space Handbag Factory, Borges blasted the audience with squealing power electronics while Kennedy turned herself into a human stringed instrument, scraping a bow across an amplified metal wire, with one end fastened to a collar around her neck and the other coiled tightly around her arm.
The performance was spellbinding. It was also painful, leaving bloody lacerations on Kennedy’s skin and pushing her muscles to the limit.
“Think about the amount of tension that it takes for the ‘A’ string on a cello to make that sound,” she says. “I’m physically being the tuning peg that is creating that tension with those instruments. It takes a lot of strength to do that, and for me, part of the excitement is, am I gonna have the strength to do this tonight?”
The band is currently working on a new live show, and The Architector, which Borges is putting out on his label Monorail Trespassing, isn’t as confrontational. But the physicality is still there, manifesting in eerie soundscapes in which doctored sounds — like dry ice pressed against metal — take the place of melody as recurring motifs. The music lets them explore the possibilities of sound, but it’s also a form of therapy.
“We’re dealing with a lot of the darker sides of our personas. A lot of it is working out sort of mental issues,” Kennedy says. She gestures up at the sun, soaking in the vitamin D while looking relaxed in a raccoon-skin cap and torn black sweater. “We’re here in this sunny park, and this is a very relaxing environment, but we need this. But we also need what we do with PD.”
Borges grew up in a town amidst the desert and farmland of California’s Central Valley, and he fell in love with noise when he first heard Sonic Youth and Nirvana as a 10-year-old in the mid-’90s. Picking up guitar, he taught himself a wide range of unorthodox methods; in the one guitar lesson he ever took, he drove his guitar teacher crazy by playing chords with his thumb curled over the top of the neck.
He started Pedestrian Deposit as a solo project in 2000, ditching the six-string to pursue pure electronics with mixers and pedals. Kennedy, who was raised in central Connecticut, came into the group eight years ago. Classically trained in cello, she offered a counterweight by attacking experimental music from a different angle, trying to reject and unlearn proper techniques.
Their ideas don’t always gel together neatly, but that's only made them more powerful. After all, great art often comes from using equipment the way it isn’t intended.
“Feedback specifically, it’s a personal sound for me,” Borges says. “I mean, I love plenty of raw punk and noise and hardcore noise-rock, but I think that some music over time dates or becomes dated, and I think that noise — there’s a freedom there. It can transcend time.”
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Pedestrian Deposit plays with Shredded Nerve and Scant at Complex on Sunday, April 19. More info.