September 21, 2008
Punch Brothers Compose Ambitious New Piece
Goal: To Fully Alienate All Traditionalists Regardless of Age, Nationality, Creed
NEW YORK — Punch Brothers, hot young pioneers of through-composed music for bluegrass instruments, have begun work on their most ambitious piece so far.
The band, which features Chris Thile on mandolin and vocals, will build upon the vast achievements of its previous 40-minute suite, “The Blind Leaving the Blind”, this time employing even more advanced compositional tools towards a singular objective: to estrange every single traditional bluegrass enthusiast without exception.
“We will not come up short this time,” said Thile.
“We came so close with the Piece, but we’re a much more fully realized ensemble now than we were back then.”
“Yeah, we have to keep moving forward, and total alienation of the traditionalists seemed like a logical goal after what we accomplished with our first album,” said Gabe Witcher, the quintet’s fiddler.
“Making music that every bluegrass fan will like is pretty easy. Just play a song real well and sing it without messing with it too much,” said guitarist Chris “Critter” Eldridge. “But making music that will infuriate every traditional bluegrass fan who hears it is much more of a challenge in these days of unrefined taste, especially when you play as well as we do.”
“You have to be conceptual and systematic,” added Thile.
According to Noam Pikelny, Punch Brothers’ banjo player, the group has been tirelessly refining its new concepts and execution. Pikelny, a former engineering student, has established an advanced theoretical basis for Punch Brothers’ effort to alienate all bluegrassers, coining the phrase “Radical Acute Conceptual Metamorphosis (RACM).”
Briefly, RACM is a technique for quickly and unexpectedly shifting between bluegrass and various mutually exclusive genres in order to minimize traditionalists’ enjoyment.
For example, rugged bluegrass instrumentalism would yield to extremely fragile, even confessional singing; tonal structure would abruptly collapse in dissonance; driving rhythmic passages would slip out of time without resolution; the downhome twang of banjo, fiddle and mandolin improvisation would unexpectedly morph into highly composed segments laden with the complexity of classical music.
“Yes, that’s the essence of RACM. The traditionalist should never feel comfortable,” said Thile.
“If you know that something you like is always and immediately followed by a powerful negative stimulus, even your brief moments of enjoyment become stanched by fear,” said one Yale psychology professor. “That is a very well-established technique of advanced psychological conditioning, and it’s amazing and important to see it employed in the bluegrass musical arts for the first time.”