Music » Music Features

It doesn’t have to be beautiful


"Nothing," jokes Matty Sonar, describing what attracted him to playing in local noise outfit Gaybot.

"I didn't like it at all," he says, "and I don't know if I do now."

For Sonar, who provides beats and plays guitar, saxophonist Chris Wicks, and mastermind Brian Blatt (who most often embodies the Gaybot persona, though he insists that "Gaybot" means all three people in the group), the music they make together isn't necessarily intended to be liked. Though that hasn't stopped their steadily growing audiences from having a great time.

"Lately, we've been getting people to stay through our entire sets, which I think is quite a feat," says Wicks. "I don't know exactly what has changed --- maybe people's perceptions? --- but I think it can be a pretty confusing spectacle because we get up there and there are really no boundaries."

Maybe the answer lies in the fact that as aggressively theatrical, musically messy, and abrasive on your senses Gaybot shows may be, they're never unpleasant. In fact, jovial mischief is about the only thing that connects one performance to the next, as no two of them are remotely alike.

Where a lot of experimental music can come off as detached and self-absorbed with alienating, highbrow pretenses, you'll get none of that from the Gaybot experience. Sure, you'll be confused and, more likely than not, wondering "is this art?" or "is it weird just for its own sake?" But Gaybot manages to strike a fine --- and rare --- balance.

Despite a heavily contrived presentation, with new costumes, concepts, entrance routines, contraptions, and homemade instruments planned in advance, you won't have to worry about the band taking itself too seriously. Not even close.

In a recent performance, for example, the usual directionless improvised wailing created by the trio -- a maelstrom of piercing saxophone, drumbeats played completely out of reference with anything else, and a series of squeaks, squeals, squonks, and distorted vocals echoing and repeating and building on themselves through an effects processor --- suddenly halted for an earnest, pre-planned rendition by Blatt and two guest accordionists of Oscar the Grouch's theme song, "I Love Trash."

After that, Blatt and Sonar, clad in wrestling singlets purchased secondhand, broke into a spontaneous bout of wrestling on the floor. Wicks, spared from being pulled into the fray by his refusal to don a used singlet, just kept playing his horn.

For the most part, such playfulness is fostered by Blatt, an amiable fellow who founded Gaybot two years ago as a solo act. He played fractured, barely coherent rhythm patterns (you really couldn't have called them "beats") on a laptop.

Blatt, who also paints with watercolor in an abstract though strikingly more accessible, sedate style, doesn't consider himself a musician. In conversations with him about his work, this point comes up again and again. He is not, however, cavalier about it. He says he would like to acquire some formal training so that he can start developing a vocabulary for his ideas. He is even starting to compose actual songs, though it's anyone's guess as to how they'll emerge in the context of Gaybot, if at all.

In the meantime, Blatt isn't interested in waiting around for his chops to develop; he'd rather just take the leap and see what happens. His upcoming musical, which he talks about at length on the condition that it's kept off the record, will be his most ambitious outing to date. (Let's just say it will take Gaybot's theatrics to a whole new level.) But with no regard for whether the parachute opens or not, the risk of failure becomes non-existent.

And, so far, creative tools --- musical gear, paints, etc. --- just keep finding their way into his hands, either via other people's garbage or donations. Walking down South Clinton Avenue, for example, he stops to pick up a long, thin pipe lying near the curb.

"I need this," he says excitedly. "No --- I really do."

He carries the pipe vertically, so it extends way over his head, which gives him a Moses-like air as he adjusts his stride to accommodate the new weight at his side. Passersby give him strange looks. Blatt seems either indifferent or entirely oblivious. He taps the pipe on various other objects to gauge the sounds it can produce.

"I figure I could make some kind of instrument out of it," he explains. "Either one you blow through or strung up with wire."

It's not like Blatt is on some crusade to make fun of or desecrate music or even inspire people to question what music means. He's just making fun --- literally creating a fun atmosphere.

"I've always had the urge to make music," he says. "Listening was a really, really big part of my life." Blatt says he spent 10 years watching bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish. "I thought 'why am I not doing this myself? I love it so much.' While the actual style of that music is totally different, the [jamband] spirit is very similar to what I'm doing."

He reminisces about going to shows and seeing people dance and lose themselves without self-consciousness --- a trait he feels is all-too prevalent in this town. One of Gaybot's main intentions is for audiences to feel freer.

Still, Wicks andSonar --- both confident, seasoned, technically proficient musicians --- lavish Blatt with praise for what they see as his musical skill.

Indeed, in an impromptu private performance in his bedroom, Blatt thumbs the bare end of a guitar cable plugged into an effects unit. At first, he just taps. He then adds vocals, the sound of coins jingling in a metal bowl, and feedback, tapping at varying rhythms against different parts of his hand. He piles different effects, like distortion and repeating echo, on top of one another.

Soon lush, dreamy soundscapes filled with texture and color begin to form. One sounds like ghosts chanting Buddhist prayer at daybreak, another like an electrical storm coursing through another planet's atmosphere. Even the harsh, initially invasive feedback is corralled into beauty.

"I think one of my favorite instruments," he says, "is just this --- buzz."

One of Blatt's random recordings, done on a tape recorder, is of two voices each repeating a two-syllable phrase and overlapping in a pattern that makes them sound like an entire chorus.

Of course you won't hear anything quite so discernable when Gaybot is egged on by the glare of a crowd, but these pockets of creativity reveal Blatt's sense of craft --- which is also starting to show in the Gaybot jams that the band records a few days before each show. The spirit on the recordings is still free, but there is more repetition, subtlety, and restraint.

Nonetheless, the end result remains secondary to the act of expression.

"It's kind of refreshing for me," says Wicks, "coming from the other groups that I play with --- jazz and other types of improvised music --- where there's really a lot of pressure to create something beautiful. With this, it doesn't have to be beautiful."

Sonar concurs: "even people that have performed their whole lifetime and are famous and have gotten every other aspect of their career satisfied... seek the things that Gaybot gives me. It's natural and pure."

Gaybot's upcoming shows: Monday, May 9:Brian Blatt solo set with usaisamonster and clouds crossing, A\V Space, 8 Public Market, 9 p.m. Donations., 423-0320 | Tuesday, May 10: with Houston Bernard and Roger Houston, Bug Jar, 219 Monroe Avenue, 9 p.m. $6-$8., 454-2966 | Saturday, May 14: the Gaybot Musical debuts, Door 7, 439 Central Avenue, 10 p.m. Free., 512-470-0078 | Saturday, May 21: at the A/V Space, 8 Public Market, 10 p.m. Donations., 423-0320