Hasco Duo’s The Same Old Wonder Explores the New and Unexpected

Nothing about the Hasco Duo’s new disc, The Same Old Wonder (New Focus Recordings), appears to fit the title, at least on the surface, as it contains works that are entirely new and unexpected. Comprised of soprano Amanda DeBoer Bartlett and guitarist Jesse Langen, this duo (whose name is an anagram of the word “chaos”) has set out to “…deconstruc[t] the conventional expectations associated with a voice and guitar duo” – a goal they’ve most certainly achieved. On The Same Old Wonder, Bartlett and Langen debut five new works by Ravi Kittappa, Morgan Krauss, Luis Fernando Amaya, Jonathon Sokol, and the performers themselves. One note: there was limited biographical information in the album booklet about the performers, and none for the composers. Perhaps this information could be added, at least in a digital format.

Ravi Kittappa’s Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst… takes a quote from Friedrich Nietzche’s Beyond Good and Evil that reads, “When one stares into the abyss, the abyss also stares back.” Kittappa sets a flowingly melodic vocalise over throbbing guitar riffs, creating waves of sound that burst forward and then recede, the abyss personified. Bartlett and Langen move in a completely different direction with their own composition, Wildflower. The folk-like melody, sung a cappella, could be an attractive tune on its own, capturing the childlike essence of the words of Constantinos Harpending Pavellas. Bartlett’s clear voice is particularly effective in capturing the wonder and inquisitive nature of the young poet. Langen’s gentle and sustained playing provides a shimmery canvas for the text.

Morgan Krauss’ pallid tongues opens with a stream of distorted, punchy text recited over dense riffs, the rhythms vying for prominence. Memories–about making love, confusion, and feelings of flight, all jumbled together–are recalled and pushed aside. The struggle stops for a moment, as the singer reflects, “Sometimes we have to avoid thinking about the problems life presents. Otherwise we’d suffocate. Banality is sometimes striking.” From then on, her words begin to gradually fall apart into syllables. The guitar ceases its rhythmic drive and begins to envelop the voice as it deconstructs.

Hasco Duo--Photo by Karjaka Studios

Hasco Duo–Photo by Karjaka Studios

Tinta Roja/Tinta Negra (Red Ink/Black Ink) by Luis Fernando Amaya is an especially compelling work. Tinta Roja/Tinta Negra is an homage to “ancient voices, silenced and lost to perpetuity.” The interplay of the guitar with ebow and the voice create a resonant and captivating 13-minute soundscape that is at first formless and sustained. The sounds begin to shift upwards in pitch and novel textures, and colors appear as the ear strains to hear the singer’s “cries” emerging from the fabric of the work. These vocalizations and the accompanying interjections from the guitar grow louder and more intense until they fade away; the ancient voices exiting from the first.

Jonathan Sokol’s Basic Lands is the final work; a 25-minute modular game piece with texts taken from the book The Prairie and the Sea by William Quayle. The rules of the composition are modeled after the card game “Magic: The Gathering” and include a variable and stratospheric vocal part (performed exuberantly with perfect pitch and diction by Bartlett) and a guitar part that must be improvised based on chance selection of fragmented musical gestures. Langen’s performance is exemplary here. His fluid rendering of the various gestures in dialogue with the voice is outstanding. Too often overlooked, the engineering team led by Alex Inglizian and Jack Murray (whose masterful work is clearly noted throughout the disc) deserves special kudos for the balance and clarity of the musical lines. The voice is never overpowered, as it easily could have been, by the guitar in even the most intense sections, and yet nothing feels dull or restrained. A masterful and resoundingly successful effort.

The Same Old Wonder sets an entirely new bar for what is possible by a voice and guitar duo. It is an unexpected, captivating, and somewhat experimental journey through a variety of intensely captivating sound worlds. I am looking forward to further surprises and innovations from this talented pair.