Arts Desk

“Wild Untamed Planet of Weirdness”: The Caribbean on its Arts on N Street Collaboration with Matt Hollis

incubator

Enter Pittsburgh's Mattress Factory museum and you've got to take note of the noise. Much of the audio in its room-size installations falls into the soundscape camp—ambience, washes of noise, abstractions. That kind of thing. But "the stuff that really works actually has some meat on its bones, something like a melody,” says Michael Kentoff, whom you might call the frontman of D.C.'s The Caribbean, though storyteller-in-chief is probably more apt.

So when Kentoff got the call to create music for an installation at the Arts on N Street Festival, he knew the incidental or ambient route wouldn't work. He told curator Beth Baldwin as much. "As we were talking, I’d said I'd like it to be a sort of leap into the unknown—'take-my-hand-trust-me-it’s-OK' kind of music," he says.

The resulting 21-minute work by the Caribbean is called "Curtains Drawn," and this Saturday and Sunday it'll soundtrack "Incubator," an installation by D.C. artist Matt Hollis. It's a mash-up with some built-in randomness: While working, neither party knew what, exactly, the other had in mind.

Of course, Kentoff browsed Hollis' online portfolio, much of which Kentoff calls "otherwordly fabric work," and began to imagine "a wild untamed planet of weirdness." And so he came up with a musical response—a collaboration between Kentoff and Caribbean members Matt Byers and Dave Jones—that he's calling "Disney-esque."

Disney-esque? Allow Kentoff to clarify: "Basically harp, fanciful moments in the soundtrack, to go along with this...weird, subterranean, very colorful, very exotic space." So he and his bandmates assembled bits of samples and noise and melodic fragments into something of a musical narrative—which also happens to be the band's first long-form work. "There is something interesting and disorienting about it," Kentoff says. "It’s going to be like a womb."

The project allowed the band to tap into one of its strange obsessions: library music, works that are licensed for use in movies and television but are composed with only cues—like "chase," or "romance"—in mind. "It's music written for hypothetical situations," Kentoff says—exactly what the Caribbean is doing with "Curtains Drawn."

The work may see a release next year, if the band includes it on an EP or LP of library-style music it's planning to release on Australia's Hidden Shoal label. "Matt especially is very interested in doing abstract, sample-based stuff," Kentoff says. "His dream is to be Martin Swope, you know, the Mission of Burma guy."

But first: The Caribbean is releasing Discontinued Perfume this fall on Hometapes, and Kentoff says it's the band's best album yet. The record contains more of what Kentoff calls skewed pop songs—in this case, meditations about connection and alienation.

As for "Curtains Drawn," it already has one fan in Baldwin, its curator. "It made her cry," says Kentoff. "In a good way.”

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