Ben Von Wildenhaus
Hometown: Bellingham, WA
Benjamin von Wildenhaus. Name sounds like a turn-of-the-century Prussian duke or peddler of curios, snakeoil and ersatz jewelry. Maybe not such a bad set of images to start by thinking about, rather than all his influences or whatever. Ben Wildenhaus is a guitar player, pianist and all-‘round musical dude, on par with modern guys like Alan Bishop and older ones like Sandy Bull. All three were drawn to the vast space, windblown grit and non-Western twang of desert guitar/oud music. None went the tacky world [sic] music route, Allah etc. be praised. All three instead took gracefully and intuitively to the music’s deeper structure—hazy or unmarked beginnings and endings, subtle dynamic rise and ebb, and unhurried play—and adapted it into their own idiom. They’ve given us ambitious wandering soundscapes, suitable for salt trading by caravan, qat chewing in humid cafés, and walking to work with your headphones on.
To me, Wildenhaus has always made good use of tools like a light touch, melody and subtlety in his songs. Knowing full well that regularly placed lacks-of-music and well considered phrasing set a mood and give songs that much more oomph. This is music built around tones, careful dynamics and strange, non-linear melodies. These songs, and generally the guy’s oeuvre, are genuinely and honestly playful. They have subtexts and ideas that don’t easily emerge on a first or second lesson. Rather than riffs, this is music of melodies and timing, of odd and subtle beauty, and music that doesn’t seem at all temporary. Not temporary, but strangely circular, bringing one back to the place where the thing started rather than some perfectly choreographed, linear end. These days Wildenhaus plays the electric guitar, sine wave generator and spare touch on a looping pedal.
Wildenhaus’s background includes some formal training and tours, beers and bands beyond number (notably, the blown-out fuzz of 2000s Northwest giants Federation X, or the country and western Quaalude County Country Band and Juanita Family and Friends). More recently, he has lent hands to established non-indie rock groups and artists like Bar Tabac, Two Dark Birds and Ozan Aksoy’s CUNY Middle Eastern Music Ensemble, and has also released a series of home recordings via his Instrumental Quaalude podcast, which is one the best damn things on the Internet.
Great Melodies From Around first appeared in 2010, at the urging of friend Ilyas Ahmed. The cassette-only (“foreign market bootleg”) release has gotten attention from folks like Aquarius and animalpsi. Ben performed solo shows last year inside a site-specific latex sculpture by Takashi Horisaki at the Regina Rex Gallery in Queens, NYC”
—Josh Vanek, Wäntage USA, July 2011
Wildenhaus on Great Melodies From Around:
”The album was always intended for two-sided format such as tape and vinyl. Each side was labored over to come out exactly 22 minutes long, the maximum length of quality audio on one side of a 12 inch at 33 1/3 rpm. Each side begins and ends with an identical chord created by layered sine-waves from a 1960s science room sine-square wave generator. Each side descends from the purist audio form – the unaffected sine wave – to various states of decaying audio fidelity – old warbly cassette decks and walkmans, am radio transmission, etc. Each side then ascends back and concludes with the sine-waves again. This makes the vinyl and the tape an endless loop, and each side indistinguishable until a couple of minutes into them. And for each listener “side one” is which ever side they heard first.
The Fall 2010 tape was the “foreign market bootleg” version of the forthcoming LP/CD “Great Melodies From Around.” I made about 100 or so hand decorated and hand weathered tapes and distributed them via mail to old friends far and wide, musicians and magazines I respect and some random people I don’t know at all. My biggest hope for these tapes is that someday someone will find one at a Goodwill in a random town, put it in their car stereo and be honestly confused as to the decade, country-of-origin, and intended target audience of the music.
My biggest hope for the record is that some faded bro sitting on a couch somewhere will suddenly realize that he or she has absolutely no idea what the hell they are listening to, even if they were the one who dropped the needle in the first place. This goal is inspired by the first Reeks and Wrecks record, which brought about just such an occasion once or twice, with me as the dude on the couch.”
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