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This weekend the second annual Solid Sound music and arts festival takes place in North Adams at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA).
Jeff Tweedy and members of the alternative rock band Wilco curated the eclectic programming, which features everything from gallery art shows to comedy to cheese-making to live falconry.
And, of course, there's the music, including the Levon Helm Band, Jamie Lidell, and of course Wilco in their only east coast performance this summer.
Also on the bill is an improvisational duet between Wilco guitarist Nels Cline and Thurston Moore of the punk/art rock band Sonic Youth.
Moore lives in Northampton, so the festival is home turf for him. He said Solid Sound was the perfect excuse for him and Cline to get back together on something they gave birth to a long time ago: their “Pillow Wand” duo, also known as the “Dream Guitar” project.
“It’s been a while,” Moore said during an interview in the Easthampton offices of Wilco's manager, Tony Margherita. Sitting next to Moore Cline went back in time to recount the "Pillow Wand" origin story. It all started in 1996.
“My recollection is that as a fan of Sonic Youth, and knowing Thurston from when he was shopping at Rhino Records in West L.A. a hundred years ago, we were talking about doing something textural and something dreamy, so we were calling it the “Dream Guitar” project. And we thought a good metaphor for Dream Guitar was Pillow Wand, which was the makeup applicator from a makeup ad on TV in the 70s.”
The two guitarists sequestered themselves into a West L.A. garage owned by one of Cline’s friends and recorded their “Pillow Wand” experiment. It was improvised, with a few, “agreed upon parameters,” Cline said, “and some dreamy layers, but for the most part it’s just two guitars.”
“We did it in about two hours,” Cline said, “and then went and played at Rhino records in the store, which was a different approach.”
They recorded that session, too, simply titled, "In Store." Both albums are out of print now. Since 1996 Cline and Moore have only performed together as a duet three or four times.
“I can’t really describe adequately the process of improvisation,” Cline said, “but I have to say I’ve been listening to Thurston for many, many years and I feel an affinity with his guitar approach. I feel like when we start we just basically are in the sand box.”
“The idea of playing the guitar any which way, I find that’s my god-given right!” Moore added with a laugh. “A lot of it has to do with approaching the guitar in a way where we use a lot of implementation.”
In past performances the guitarists played with metal files, eggbeaters, electric fans and springs. For Solid Sound Cline brought along a bottleneck that’s distressed on one side, and Moore said he'll play with broken drums sticks, a broken antennae and he'll use an iPhone as a slide.
“I always think to myself people must think I’m a total primate,” he said, half serious, half joking. “You know, I have yet to sort of come out of the water and walk.”
What can audiences expect to hear from these two scientists this weekend?
“There’s a certain amount of shared musical aesthetic that might come into play,” Cline mused, “and then it might not. We might just put our guitars on the ground and watch them. We don’t really know because there’s no discussion. It’s really just about a love of sound, and that’s the point.”
This segment aired on June 24, 2011.
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