Denver-based band The Kevin Costner Suicide Pact sample, stretches, and compresses sonic moments revealing new possibilities for sound art in a pop context
By Anjulie Rao
Originally published in Birdie Magazine, February 2014
Conventionally speaking, the term “noise music” should be redundant. Music is organized noise. But when music crosses into the realm of contemporary art, convention goes out the window. Such is the case for noise music group The Kevin Costner Suicide Pact (KCSP).
Based in Denver, CO., the electronic quartet consists of longtime friends Peter Goodwin, Nathan Wright and brothers Carson and Tyler Pelo, who produce undulating drones and piercing sonic decompositions—not something to dance to, but their work experimenting in sound highlights important structural components of music, with an end result that recalibrates music as an art form.
Originally, KCSP existed as a larger group, Fellow Citizens. After it disbanded, the four original members continued on together, though they had different goals in mind. “What began as an alt-country/shoegaze/post-rock band became what we are doing now,” states Goodwin. "We continuously stripped layers away, until we essentially got to a bare-bones, minimal approach to music and creation."
Deconstruction becomes a major theme, as is evident in the group's most recent album, released by Fire Talk Records in May 2013. Tape Phase contains three 13- to 15-minute tracks that begin with slow, basic drones and move into more solid, increasingly complicated melodies. Critic Crawford Philleo calls these movements “phrases,” noting, in his May 2013 Decoder blogpost, “The two sides of music are both based around one single musical phrase each.”
These music “phrases” are what keep KCSP’s work from drooping too low into the usual navel-gazing, anti-structural tendencies of drone. Phrases, according to Goodwin, are actually musical moments. “Conceptually, we appreciate moments in sound," he explains. "The idea of a 'hook' or a 'lick' isn't that far off. We take small moments and stretch them way, way out.”
Exploring sonic moments gives KCSP space to experiment with structure—specifically through improvisation. “I wouldn’t say that we rely on improvisation for the basis, but more of what we choose to add to the roots of our music," Carson Pelo told Foxy Digitalis writer Rachel Evans in a December 2011 interview. "We might have a melody, idea and loop, and after we get that down … whatever happens after is almost out of our control.” Yet, the important idea is that improvisation is not necessarily used but is a starting point. “On the whole, we are inspired by jazz recordings —[Jazz stars Charles] Mingus and [John] Coltrane to name a couple—and the beauty of on-the-spot recording,” elaborates Goodwin.
The result is an experience unlike most organized noise. Fizzing with complexity, KCSP takes advantage of stripped-down sonic drawls complemented by unexpected turns in rhythm and bursts of electronic instruments, resulting in a structural exploration that is not so dissimilar to that of conventional pop, complete with melody and repetition. But the group's use of deconstruction and improvisation allows it to transcend entertainment and move toward the realm of art, in that it does what all good works of art do: They make the audience ask questions. In the case of KCSP, its looping, meditative works pique audiences’ curiosity. Listeners begin to question how music can function as a convention on stage or as a form of conceptualism.
For now, KCSP is focusing on continuing this exploratory trajectory, as the group's members have compiled many of their ideas, riffs and loops to be released. Like a loop pedal, KCSP’s work is always on the move. As Goodwin muses, releasing Tape Phases “marks the end of one moment and the beginning of a new one.”