Before we talk about Buke & Gase, there are a few things you should know. Yes, the band members, Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez, both pronounce their names the same way (“Aaron”). No, they are not a couple. Oh, and they don’t play folk music.
How, after hearing the duo’s delightfully scrambled second full-length, General Dome, anyone could call their music folk is a little baffling. But then, their music can be a bit baffling, too. Intent on creating as much sound as possible with just two people, Dyer and Sanchez’s live performance can look like that of a pair of scruffy buskers, especially considering their fresh-from-an-Occupy-general-assembly look. But the toe-bourine, the kick drum, the gase—a guitar strung with bass strings—are not being used to make folksy protest songs.
Buke & Gase’s compositions are lurching, swirling, surprising things that defy easy classification.
“I think with that limitation, with two of us and having to do more with less, it creates an interesting situation in that we have to stretch ourselves and really challenge ourselves and explore,” Sanchez says. “How do we make this moment be really full sounding with what we have? How do we create dynamics with these sounds we’re using? Musically, that brings about some interesting scenarios that we wouldn’t think of otherwise.”
Experimenting with making unexpected sounds come from instruments and other objects is nothing new for Sanchez. A former full-time, behind-the-scenes member of the Blue Man Group, he’s the man behind a great many of the noise-makers the group has used onstage over the years. When reached for this interview, he and Dyer were in a warehouse in Hudson, New York, “making PVC instruments.”
Dyer, for her part, grew up a singer-songwriter, “writing music by myself and singing it and performing it by myself, because that’s kind of what that means.” She and Sanchez met in 2000, when they were both living in New York City. They became fast friends, noodling around and making music with pals. Though they didn’t know it at the time, they were already developing the loose, experimental ethos that’s now integral to their sound.
“He introduced me to — [speaking to Aron] through you and your friends, and just meeting and hanging out in the basement loosened me up toward improvising more instead of hunkering down in my room by myself and tearing my soul out and putting it on paper or something like that. He introduced me to something much more free, and I think that the way we write is really free, loose,” Dyer says.
The final product of a Buke & Gase song is plenty organized; it has to be. Adorned with instruments from limb to limb onstage, Dyer and Sanchez contrast the minimalism of their small band with a maximalist approach to sound.
“I’m trying to sound kind of like an orchestra. I’m always searching for ways to make [my gase] produce more sound than it previously did. I’m always trying to add layers,” Sanchez says.
Playing multiple instruments at once means Sanchez and Dyer have to use their whole bodies to recreate songs live—bells tied around ankles, tambourines affixed to shoes and so on. Preparing for a live performance, then, becomes a bit like choreographing a dance.
“I feel like I’m playing a drum kit, kind of, even though I’m holding a guitar thing. The way we’re using all our limbs is similar to a drummer. It becomes one instrument. Like the bass drum and the guitar and the vocal. It’s all like one motion in a way, it’s one instrument,” says Sanchez.
Buke & Gase’s writing process, however, is much more free-form than the mapped-out movements required for performance. Nearly everything the duo does is born of improvisation, just the two of them jamming together, and Dyer talks about the wonder and delight of discovering a new melody together.
“We kind of separate ourselves from our egos in that moment,” she says. “It doesn’t all sound good, but we’ll go back and pull out the good stuff and make a song out of it. Like, ‘In the Company of Fish’ is a good example […] Operatic! Where the hell did that come from?”
Sanchez interjects, “When we are improvising and it’s really cool, that’s what the song ends up sounding like. But what’s happening is in that moment, we are creating the sound of a song. It’s not like we’re creating parts to it and are eventually going to add layers. It’s like, that IS it. And that’s our sound!”
Equally as mystifying to the duo is the interplay between the band and the audience and the opportunity to see how their songs are received. Buke & Gase’s lyrics are often hard to understand and function more like an additional instrument than a vehicle for meaning and message. Not long ago, Dyer found a video online of a girl covering one of the duo’s songs, a capella. Unable to understand the lyrics, the girl had made up her own.
“I like the lyrics that she made up,” Dyer says. “I sent her the lyrics when I heard hers, and she was like, ‘Ahh, I’m sorry! I hope I’m not stepping on your toes!’ But it’s not about that. It’s flattering that anyone would even put that energy there.”
Indeed, feedback from their audience is an essential element in the music-making process.
“I enjoy hearing other people say what they think is being said and just kind of like it should be a communal thing between us and the audience, that we’re creating something together,” says Sanchez.
Perhaps that attitude of creating just for the joy of sharing the process with others is what frees Dyer and Sanchez to take risks both onstage and in songwriting. Their playful, experimental approach to music-making frees them to make their genre-bending, shape-shifting compositions. Even they don’t know what it is all the time, and that’s okay — as long as you don’t call it folk.