Buke and Gass
By Giles Turnbull
Let’s begin with a crash course history lesson to get up to speed with what brings us here, listening to Buke and Gass, whose very name, at first sight, appears to be taken from unpleasant bodily emanations that you wouldn’t want much of, especially not at the same time. (In case you were wondering, Buke is actually pronounced byook, and Gass, gace.)
In the late 1700s, composer-pianist Muzio Clementi built his own pianos, and in doing so helped shape development of the piano as we know it today. By the 1940s, composer John Cage was sticking all manner of objects inside the piano to make it a more percussive instrument with amazing possibilities and new musical directions. Similarly, there was Hendrix, using his guitar in revolutionary ways, and making it talk through his definitive use of the wah-wah pedal. At the other extreme, power pop band Cheap Trick were renowned for instruments as crazy, and implausibly impractical, as the five-necked guitar and a 12-string bass.
So it’s a long, distinguished lineage that brings us to the Buke and the Gass, creations of Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez. The Buke is in fact a modified six-string former baritone ukulele, and the Gass is a guitar-bass hybrid. Both instruments are channeled through weird and wonderful pedals and home-made inventions to produce their distinctive sound. Dyer and Sanchez also batter a plethora of percussion, and Dyer sings fervently atop this musical mélange.
Before forming Buke and Gass in 2008, Dyer and Sanchez had, between them, toured with some notable acts, including Deerhoof, Les Savy Fav, and The Fall; in fact, it is rumored that the soul of Mark E. Smith was captured and kept in an empty wine bottle, and has now been released into the Buke, from where it hurls obscenities.
Like a scene from the Wild West, “Medulla Oblongata” begins, conjuring up a soundscape that makes you believe the tumbleweed is blowing inside your head, Clint Eastwood is glowering in front of your eyes, and there’s a haunting voice, wordlessly warning you about the hell that’s about to be unleashed. That is the opening of Riposte, but the fear is transformed into a song of heartfelt anguish.
What surprises most is how amazingly musical this album is, beautiful even, despite the anticipation of the wild far-out avant-garde noise. It certainly can be an eerie world, as the delicate glass bubble moments suddenly shatter, with frenetically increasing volume and thunderous bangs; as if a switch suddenly flips and one side of your brain becomes temporarily scrambled. But the craziness has its own beauty, and then you realize that what we have, standing in front of us, is just another way of looking at things.
This is the very heart of music, making your own sound and your own statements in your own way. If electric guitars and Nirvana had never happened, this is precisely what grunge would have been, and we’d all be bastardizing banjos, doing unspeakable things to ukuleles, and cross breeding guitars and basses and even drummers. Buke and Gass are, quite literally, making music, taking it from the toolbox to the studio and the stage.
Buke and Gass play The EARL, September 27…
… and DC9, September 29.