Line up every album from The Books, and–by the time you remove your headphones–your simpatico rhythmic sensibility will be blown, newly infused with the idea that there is rhythm possible in all sound. Nay, you may start seeking rhythm (and melody) in stuff you once saw as simply sound. That’s what they do best.
But The Books–Holland immigrant and classically trained cellist Paul de Jong and New England visual artist and sound sculptor Nick Zammuto–will not substitute their sense of rhythm with yours through John Cage’s aleatoric rhythm of chance. This isn’t indeterminacy. Instead, this is very specific, very conscious music, rigorously constructed by simply finding rhythm where you didn’t realize it existed and by accenting or altering the time steps where they do barely exist.
Over the course of three albums and one EP with fringe hip-hop producer Prefuse 73, The Books have established themselves as a set of American musical pioneers. They have reworked the concept of samples by sequestering big slices of sound from unorthodox places–a recording of a child being told she has no mother or father, a vintage description of a world-class athlete and artist who is also a heavy drinker, a flight attendant in Tokyo thanking her passengers at flight’s end–and using them as the substrate, scrambling bits from a mammoth library of assembled samples inside frenzied bits of banjo, guitar, cello and actual voices.
Sometimes, those samples come spliced, distorted, reversed, slowed, sped or recombined. And as established on Thought for Food–their debut and one of this decade’s true masterpieces–The Books’ aesthetic is a bold step, an integration of technology with folk that transcends similarly rooted work by Four Tet. It’s also a complicated matrix of samples and melodies that hold different meanings for different people, and that’s part of the charm.
“There’s always been an interest to meet people halfway with our work,” says Zammuto.
And now, they’re interested in doing the same with video, collecting old tapes from thrift stores and archives every time they have a chance, projecting them as they play and allowing the audience room to interpret.
“The images on the film are personal, and they resonate with different people very different ways. It’s great to look up during the set and see someone smile at some image playing above your head,” says Zammuto, on the road in Champaign, Ill., during the band’s second tour ever. “And the next moment somebody else will start smiling at something else. I like it.”
The Books play Talley Student Center on NCSU’s campus at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 30. Grizzly Bear opens. Tickets are $5-7.