American Contraband: Alternative Rock and American Experimental Music

RealAudio Sound Sample

The septet onstage is an unorthodox amalgamation of electric guitars, horns, strings and drums, yet it’s sort of modern chamber orchestra not entirely unknown in the context of the New York downtown music scene. When they begin to play, several things are immediately apparent. First, the music that the group plays is fairly rigorous in its construction – even its simplest pieces pit strings against guitars in sectional call-and-response punctuated by the horns. Second, the drummer is essentially playing straightforward rock rhythms, infused with that most indefinable of elements, swing. And third, they’re loud. Real loud.

Welcome to the world of Larval.

“I compose music,” states founder and guitarist Bill Brovold. “Sometimes it shifts more to rock and other times it is what people call new music composition. In my mind, I don’t really think about those categories. Larval varies between a new music ensemble and a pretty wild rock band.”

Founder Bill Brovold is no stranger to unusual ensembles united to perform new music. Shortly after receiving his B.F.A. from The School of Visual Arts in New York City, during which time he had composed music for film and provided accompaniment for performance artists, Brovold joined the guitar orchestra of Rhys Chatham. Brovold performed with the Rhys Chatham Ensemble from 1983-1988, which provided a clear example of the viability of bending rock’s electric arsenal and aggressive nature to the service of writing serious concert music.

Having trained as a painter and still involved in the visual arts, it comes as no surprise that Brovold employs visual metaphors for his music. “The songs are soundtracks to little storyboards I never made the movies to,” he stated in a 1998 interview with the Detroit News.

Now based in Michigan, Larval has released three albums, one for target=”_blank”John Zorn‘s Japanese imprint Avant and two more on the Knitting Factory label (Predator or Prey and 2). In addition, Zorn’s American label Tzadik has recently issued an album of Brovold’s original compositions under his own name, titled Childish Delusions. An ideal introduction to Brovold’s musical conception, the disc features Larval in music that here reveals the influence of Philip Glass‘s insistent arpeggiation, there the jagged chording and fiery guitar soloing of the progressive rock group King Crimson. The disc also includes music for smaller groups, solo guitar pieces, and what sounds like a conducted improvisation by his son’s Cub Scout troop.

Brovold notes of the Larval’s audience, “Our crowd really varies from college age folks who are into new music to an older crowd that maybe grew up with rock and roll, but got to a point where they need something that has a bit less of a formula than rock and roll tends to have. One 40-ish listener once said that he wanted to be challenged while still having his ass kicked.”

From American Contraband: Alternative Rock and American Experimental Music
By Jason Gross and Steve Smith
© 2000 NewMusicBox

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