Curator’s notes: High Plains, Anjou, and Alej Perez

Tone Madison presents two ambient duos and a Madison singer-songwriter on May 18. 

High Plains are Scott Morgan (left) and Mark Bridges

High Plains are Scott Morgan (left) and Mark Bridges

Tone Madison’s next curated show is on May 18 at the historic Gates of Heaven. Here’s a few thoughts on why we picked the artists who are playing. Donors to our Patreon page receive discounted admission to these events.

It’s rare that someone meets up with you in person to play you a new record, but that’s what happened last August with Madison-based cellist Mark Bridges and the first album from High Plains, his duo with Vancouver musician Scott Morgan of the multi-faceted electronic project Loscil. I plugged my headphones into Bridges’ phone, and for a while I kind of forgot that I was sitting on a bar patio at happy hour.

Cinderland, released in March on Kranky, captures the music Bridges and Morgan recorded together during a 2016 arts residency in Wyoming. It uses field recordings, synths, software, piano, and cello to create nine sparse but immersive instrumentals. It’s certainly atmospheric and untethered-feeling enough to be treated as ambient music, but there’s still a sense of deliberateness and movement in the slowly mounting rhythms of “Ten Sleep” and in the way closing track “Song For A Last Night” both sighs and rumbles.

Bridges, who has played with ensembles including the Willy Street Chamber Players and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, takes a variety of approaches on Cinderland. On the title track, he plays an up-front role with the kind of low, mournful melody that people adore the cello for. Elsewhere, as on “Blood That Ran The Rapids,” he’s catching Morgan’s synths at oblique angles with multi-tracked swells and fragments. There’s no one template at work on Cinderland, but if you listen to it all the way through there’s one big dynamic shift — so jarring that I kind of don’t want to give it away.

Before making a record together, Morgan and Bridges also collaborated on a generative music app called Adrift. Each of the four musical pieces in the app is named after a different phantom ship, and its software configures sequences and phrases from electronic and acoustic instrument into music that keeps playing and slowly shifting, indefinitely. There are plenty of interesting music apps out there, most famously Brian Eno’s Bloom and Reflection, but Adrift stands out because it manages to use the form to make a thematic statement, despite the fact that the music is theoretically different every time you play it.

The other formidable Kranky-affiliated ambient duo on this bill is Anjou, comprised of Robert Donne and Mark Nelson. The two are known for their work together in Labradford, and Nelson has also made some excellent electronic music under the name Pan American. Anjou’s latest album, Epithymía, points to a more dense and frizzy approach than High Plains. We can also expect some odd instrumentation in Anjou’s set. But just like High Plains, Anjou are eager to switch up the approach from one piece to another. “An Empty Bank” creates a rich, distorted bed of textures and sails a lonesome trumpet melody over it. “Greater Grand Crossing” assembles faint pops and glitches into an eerie, bobbing rhythm.

The show will start off with a set from Madison-based guitarist, singer, and songwriter Alej Perez, who currently leads the band Miyha and has also previously worked in local groups including Tarpaulin and Automatically Yours. If one thing has run through all those projects, it’s Perez’s ability to unite frank and cutting lyrics with pop romanticism. Miyha’s recent EP Happy Birthday, Nick will provide some of the material for Perez’s set here, but she’ll be performing solo, using electric guitar and some loops to offer a different take on the songs. “92/69/39 (Ryan Adams)” offers a good starting point for getting into Perez’s songwriting: “It doesn’t seem like much when I put it in a box,” she sings as she unpacks a mix of fond and painful memories. My favorite from the Miyha EP is “Raspberry Kombucha,” with its simple but wrenching chorus: “You just keep on denying what’s growing in your guts.” You can hear a little more about Miyha in a recent podcast interview with Perez and guitarist Mike Pellino.

Last but not least, thanks to Madison-based artist and designer Shelby Floydfor making this lovely poster:

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