By Sofia Bell
You are sitting in a donut shop talking with Jon Giusti, a noise maker from the band Swanifant, and a sound coming from somewhere behind you makes you pause.
You stop chewing and suddenly you become aware of the pattern of sounds swarming around you. You can hear the birds you see out the window as they coo, the people inside as they chew their doughy confections, and the refrigerators, ovens, coffee makers, and arcade games all hum and clank, working and churning gears, creating audible textures. You look up to see Jon, who is smiling, delighted at these and countless other noises and sounds.
He tells you that these are his favorite sounds-music that is created unintentionally, unaware of its beauty, unbeknownst of its own musicality.
Today the world’s sonic atmosphere is a combination of natural, organic sounds and mechanical, electronic sounds. Swanifant attempts to represents this duality in their music by creating a symbiotic relationship between electronically generated, synthesized sounds with acoustic instruments and nature sounds (such as lemurs and tropical birds from Madagascar) captured in field recordings.
David Cope, a music theory and composition professor at UC Santa Cruz and an influence to many Swanifant members, teaches his students that "music is a 50-50 proposition, requiring understanding with both the mind and the body. It cannot be an either/or, but has to be a both/and. This is what makes music both very hard to study and extraordinarily worthwhile."
Giusti marks these words as his personal motto. "The fiery death of a burble that will come out of our P.A. during a show-the most fearsome, gruesome sound that could be imagined by a brain is just as important as the most beautiful melody sung to the sweetest lyrics with the most sob-worthy guitar tone…We go to both of these extremes, but you can generally find us somewhere wafting back and forth between the high and low ends of the spectrum."
Swanifant coagulates electronic loops that distort and delay (provided by Jon Giusti and Jon Hrabko) with folk/country inspired acoustic guitar and vocals (Dylan Chapple), unique atmospheric drumming (Ryan Huber), and sweet violin melodies (Danny Echeverria).
Swanifant mixes the sensibilities of basic folk music (tonal and based on simple repeated patterns) with elevated concepts of dissonance and counterpoint that come directly from the school of late 20th century avant-garde, academic/classical music.
"We take things that people might not necessarily view as music and put them in the context of songs that are very easy to understand and very simple at their core," Chapple said.
At a Swanifant show, rehearsed songs are paired with improvisations to help audience members remember the atmosphere of sound we currently live in.
Just like in the donut shop, the music you hear is contingent on the moment, contingent on the listener realizing its musicality.
When you walk out of a Swanifant show, cars grumble by, birds squeak above, maybe it’s raining, maybe it’s windy, and maybe all of this might tempt you to wait a moment longer before turning on your iPod to enjoy the unconscious music of the world around you.
As drummer Ryan Huber put it, "Blips and bleeps, chortles and tweets; aren’t they the same thing?"
Swanifant will be performing at Metamusic on January 12 at 7:30pm. Check them out at www.myspace.com/swaniphant.