When multi-instrumentalist David Mansbach was a student at Bowling Green State University, he decided to do a senior thesis that combined his two main interests: music and art. Later, he cofounded electro-rock band Infinite Number of Sounds. But the piece of classically oriented music he composed stuck with him, and a couple of years later (after he moved to Cleveland and set up a home studio), he had a young violinist lay down the tracks.
He then started assembling other similar compositions he made with a cast of 14 different musicians who used a variety of old, often handmade, traditional instruments. Not quite classical and not entirely folk or jazz, the incidental music represented a change of pace from Infinite Number of Sounds.
"With Infinite Number of Sounds, I make a lot of rock and electronic music, pretty edgy stuff," says Mansbach one afternoon while taking a break from his day job as an administrator at Case Western Reserve. "With Pro Tools and everyone making this perfect-sounding music, the interesting thing to me is the flaws: the sounds of fingers on strings and coughing or moving a chair in the background. I fell in love with those noises and the idea of working with old instruments that predate recording, when music spoke to people sitting across a room from you. I love the tactile and emotive feelings."
Once he assembled all his recordings, Mansbach realized he had enough for not one, but two CDs, which he's releasing under the name Trepanning Trio. He put the string-oriented compositions on I Am a Crooked Arrow and the more recent, textural tunes on The Man Killed the Bird… With violin dominating most of the instrumentals on I Am a Crooked Arrow, the disc sounds like something you'd hear at a 17th- century wake. The Man Killed the Bird… is more experimental, with guest musician Bob Drake playing an assortment of handmade analog instruments (things like "pan tree" and "long-stringed thing"). Both discs have such a singular sound, it's hard to think of anything that sounds similar.
"There's a band [from Iceland] called Amina that toured with Sigur R—s that has a similar sound," says Mansbach. "There's also a band on Thrill Jockey Records called Town and Country that's similar. But there's not too many bands that sound like us."
For the live show, Mansbach will squeeze about 10 musicians (including horn and percussion players) onto the tiny Beachland Tavern stage. He plans to play material from both albums, though he says some songs just won't sound right without a full string section.
And while the two CDs are some of the more adventurous recordings you'll hear coming out of Northeast Ohio, it's anyone's guess as to whether they'll get heard outside the area. Mansbach says he will take whatever exposure he can get.
"With Infinite Number of Sounds, we did some licensing to Discovery and MTV, and that would be wonderful with Trepanning," says Mansbach. "These might be the last thing I ever do on CD. [It] is so close to becoming an obsolete medium. I pressed them out of my own pocket. I don't know what I'm going to do when CDs are gone.
"I love having this," he continues, pointing to the cardboard casings that were locally designed and printed. "In some ways, it's a defiant act to make these physical. [The songs] have been sitting on various computers and reel-to-reel machines, and to finally get it all together is just amazing."
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