Why Black Spirituals Rules by Raven Chacon (2015)

 In Why This Rules
Black Spirituals

Black Spirituals

Black Spirituals is the duo of Zachary James Watkins and Marshall Trammell. They come from the California Bay Area experimental scene, a community made up of amazing musicians and artists whose influence has spread across the country and the world. The bands that have come out of that scene for decades are among the most uniquely creative; distinctly bold performers who prioritize sound, and all of the volume and blur and precision that can be used to project it.

I first was introduced to the duo after meeting Zachary at the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival when I played there solo a couple of years ago and became aware of the music that he was making. When my band, Mesa Ritual, was asked to put out an album on the experimental label SIGE Records, I was excited to learn that his Oakland, California-based group Black Spirituals were also preparing an album for the label and would also be touring the Southwest U.S. We hosted a show for them in New Mexico last fall and it was one of the best shows in recent memory for our small desert city.

Watkins plays an ironing board overwhelmed with electronic devices into which he plugs a guitar or bass to activate this macro-circuitry. Trammell plays the Marshall Trammell’s STTRCRFT platform, a battery of percussion used to trace geometries to bridge the spaces between drum hits, and this is the anchor of the multitude of sounds they make. Seeing a Black Spirituals performance is witnessing a unique and powerful music being made in real-time. The two musicians blast tones and beats at each other but those sounds find their way into the spaces between, encompassing the full range of human hearing, while creating a sound that is a unison of noise study and improvised new music. Listeners become conscious of the resonance of the space as it becomes another instrument for the duo to amplify, filter, spatialize, and tune. Marshall and Zachary have been long working on sound projects that relay the story of the buildings of the invaluable Underground Railroad stations that exist across North America. Their music retells history via the physical science that results from vibration of strings and the contact of wood to membrane, reminding you of all that is hidden in plain view.

If you look at the album cover of Black Spiritual’s new album, Of Deconstruction, you will notice a similarity to the quilt that is hanging on the old wall of the Guelph Black Heritage Society’s Heritage Hall, a church built by fugitive slaves who escaped to Canada. And as you listen, you will the hear patterns and shapes within the improvisations; there are no coincidences and it is a great occurrence that they are able to visit this historic community this week. Guelph listeners have an appreciation for the newest of sounds, the possibilities of improvisation, and the beauty of noise, and I look forward to hearing them once again with you all.

Kazoo! Fest, Postcommodity’s People of Good Will Events, and Musagetes
present Black Spirituals and Lido Pimienta at Guelph Black Heritage Society’s
Heritage Hall on Saturday, April 11 2015 8:00pm.

Black Spirituals will also be presenting a workshop at
GBHS Heritage Hall on Monday, April 13 2015.

Raven Chacon is a composer and member of the interdisciplinary arts collective, Postcommodity, who have been working in Guelph on the People of Good Will project.

blackspirituals.com // facebook // soundcloud

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