Rosenau & Sanborn: Bluebird


Psychic Hotline; Jul. 23 

When Chris Rosenau (Collections of Colonies of Bees) and Nick Sanborn (Sylvan Esso, Megafaun) played their first improvised set as a duo at the Eaux Claires festival in 2015, they weren’t prepared for what happened. Longtime friends and occasional collaborators, they had planned on improvising for maybe twenty minutes, with Rosenau on guitar and Sanborn on electronics. It was a hot July day, even hotter inside the geodesic dome-shaped venue. “When we finally looked up at each other and smiled after the final note ended fifty minutes later,” Rosenau writes, “we knew we were onto something.”

Two years later, in October 2017, they got together for a weekend of recording to break in Sanborn’s then-new home recording studio between Durham and Chapel Hill, keeping that same spirit of open-ended exploration. In proper improvisatory fashion, they let the tape run through everything: rainstorms, bird calls, barking dogs, studio chatter, the sound of them shuffling around. When it was done, they made some quick mixes to document what they had done and to think about next steps.

The thing about improvised music, though, is that it resists refinement. The time and space in which it was created becomes indelibly inscribed on the sounds themselves, regardless of the sound world. Improvisation’s temporality makes it nearly impossible to fully replicate a sound or energy of the moment of creation; recreations will always be mere simulacra. When Sanburn and Rosenau listened back to the recordings a few months later, they realized that those rough mixes were just right, and released them as is.

Bluebird sounds like what would happen if you subtracted the songs from Collection of Colonies of Bees or Sylvan Esso. Both men play with familiar vocabulary—Rosenau’s open-ended acoustic guitar lines, Sanborn’s burbling synths and stuttered processing—stretched to tectonic scales. At the start of “Rainy Dog,” Sanborn spends nearly three minutes dissecting a plangent guitar line from Rosenau.

At some point, Rosenau starts playing, but it’s hard to tell quite where his plucking stops and Sanborn’s processing starts. The effect is soothing and ethereal, especially as the sound of rain slowly filters in around the edges. On “Sharon,” a stuttering sample of Sharon Van Etten forms an unstable bed for placid, ringing guitars. And when the tempo picks up, as it does in “Saturday” or “Last One,” the pace is unhurried, their conversation simple and direct. Which is something no amount of rehearsal or planning could ever duplicate.

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