With a rough pluck on his guitar, Bill Orcutt's distinct style of play signals that this will not be a gentle ride. You could say Orcutt straddles the genres of country, blues and punk, but his radical free improvisation makes the experience for the listener more like jumping on a wild stallion than on a trusted steed. His recordings are often gritty, lo-fi and live, but for his upcoming release with drummer and tourmate Chris Corsano, they're going for a more hi-fi output and utilizing gear to capture the magic that crystallizes live when their chaotic forces combine.
"I like things that are kind of unsettled," Orcutt says. "If something is going too perfectly, I kind of, as an instinct, find ways to break it. It's not really a studio versus live thing, it's more I just like the tension that comes when you're trying to sort of keep the plane from crashing, you know? When you're a little bit out of control, sustain it. That's how my brain works."
For their performance at Gallery at Avalon Island, attendees will be treated to solo sets from each artist, followed by a set where they'll perform as a duo. Unlike Orcutt's last performance in town, he'll ditch the acoustic for his electric guitar, compelling a different clatter entirely but with the same mesmerizing touch. The tension he breeds in his solo work encounters a new snarl when intertwining with Corsano's frenetic noise, which has lured the drummer into collaborations with more popularly recognized avant-garde artists like Björk, Thurston Moore and Jim O'Rourke.
"Chris is incredible!" Orcutt says. "What can you say about Chris? It's hard to stump him. I can throw out whatever and Chris manages to react. He finds something to do with it, which is kind of amazing. I love playing with Chris. He has a lot of energy and he doesn't just react to what I'm doing; he's also forcing me to react. Provoking me by throwing things my way."
It'll be a night of intrigue, especially given Orcutt's recent application of his enthralling guitar play in a mutated way of covering well-known songs, as he did on 2013's A History of Every One. He creates a compelling trick to stun the ear, taking songs we've heard a million times like "When You Wish Upon a Star" or even holiday hits like "White Christmas" and inviting you to get lost in his road-less-traveled approach.
"It's scaffolding to improvise from and it's also maybe a way to help some listeners in, to give them a reference point," Orcutt says. "For me also, I spent a long time developing a particular style and at some point I wanted to just see, could you apply this style to any kind of material?"
Orcutt's success within the experimental music world began in 1992 as half of the Miami duo Harry Pussy – an influential act that fused no wave with hardcore punk and free improvisation and saw them tour in support of distorted indie bands like Sonic Youth and Sebadoh. Since then, his solo work and frequent collaborations continue to provide a welcome shock to the system for anyone seeking an authentic voice in the din of frequently shallow popular music that's much more enslaved to melody.
"I don't feel like I've arrived anywhere," Orcutt says. "Wherever it is I'm going, I'm still trying to get there. A lot of times, I'm dissatisfied with what I'm playing. Then you have those breakthrough moments and you feel like it all, for some reason, clicked this time. So whatever it is, it's a journey, which is a terribly cliché word to use, but you're traveling somewhere. And wherever it is I'm winding up, it takes constantly working at it to try to make what I play sound like what I'm hearing in my head."