In the studio with Oak

Oak is a three-piece electro-acoustic drone group comprised of two UVM students, seniors Toby Aronson, Sara-Paul Koeller, and Chris Kunitiz. While my description might have been a bit of a mouthful, the band luckily simplifies it to nu-new age. After playing together in various other projects, the three began Oak in the summer of 2006. Each of the three members has a history of playing and studying avant-garde music. Both Aronson and Koeller study musical composition at UVM and Kunitiz studied electro-acoustics at Concordia University in Montreal. Working in the drone music genre, Oak rejects meter and standard song structure for a freer, more spacious sound. More interested in crafting a musical environment that you can get lost in, Oak gives less priority to music Cheap Monday-wearing hipsters can awkwardly nod their heads to. “There’s a timeless quality about the music with a focus not on melody or beat but on creating a space where you can really get into the sound,” said Aronson. Through Oak’s music they’d like to shape a space that is “non-linear and [that] could last forever.” Oak does this through using a single note or chord for the duration of a piece. When you hear the music you have total freedom in how your mind absorbs the sound. As the music is so minimal, your mind starts to wander and you notice the fluttering microtones dancing in the music. It’s democratic. It’s a meditative experience. Their pieces are largely improvised but stringent in each work’s tuning and preparation. Sometimes it takes the band as much as an hour to set up for a 20-minute performance as each instrument is meticulously tuned. Oak performed an untitled composition for me in their studio, which they affectionately call The Enchanted Forest, an apt name for the mood they seek to convey. The piece started off softly with sruti box and Koeller’s processed vocals. Eventually a low bass rumble could be heard faintly in the distance, slowly sliding across the soundscape until all other sounds dissolved beneath its pressure. Their sound reminds the listener of a more organic version of electronic-drone demi-god Keith Fullerton Whitman’s recordings. Oak uses acoustic instruments like the guitar, cello, double bass and harmonium, but affect the sound digitally using tremolo and delay pedals. The band attempts to find a middle ground between the highly academic, ordered work they studied and composed in college, and improvised music that – much in the vein of John Cage – celebrates the continuous element of chance, making music that is much warmer than many noise-experimental bands. It is the band’s deep appreciation of sound and texture – not simply musical – that inspires them to play their instruments. In a time when digital media – CDs and mp3s – are practically the only way people hear music, Oak is unique in their fondness for cassette tapes. “I think that recording things onto a tape mellows out that digital sound. A lot of things end up sounding really warm; it’s a happy medium between digital and analog,” said Koeller. Oak released a split tape last autumn with Burlington harsh noise artist and label owner Snake in the Garden on his Grimeology Records imprint. Oak, Snake in the Garden and free jazz-electronics group The Le Duo are slated to perform at Radio Bean Saturday, March 8 at midnight.