WHISKER “Straight from the Bottle” C30 (Unifactor)

Andrew Scott Young and Ben Billington play upright bass and synthesizer on this inaugural foray as Whisker, one of the thousand or so projects each one is involved in. These two sides, called “Code Room Green” and “Tough Flux,” were performed live at the Empty Bottle in Chicago on January 28, 2020, a time when live performances thrived and COVID-19 was just a gleam in our collective eye. So we should probably consider ourselves lucky that Straight from the Bottle (I get it!) exists at all. Surely that planned live Quicksails album has been shelved till 2021 at the latest.*


As you might expect from these two improv nerds, Young and Billington approach their instruments like they’re tinkering in a chemistry lab with beakers and chemicals and tongs and things. They likely performed these numbers while wearing safety goggles (but not masks, because, you know, pre-COVID), and I’m sure a microscope or two made an appearance. What I mean is, the duo takes a rather scientific approach to eliciting sound from their instruments, experimenting, studying, and recording data to use in the next round of research. We’re just all privy to the process.


Young’s bass is all physical string, as each creak of the instrument is audible in the recording. Billington supplements the tactile performance with his own tangible approach, mixing in micro sonics so that the two instruments blend into unpredictable kinetic activity, scrabbling like two different insects spliced together so that they’re one new, unnatural being. But there’s nothing really unnatural about Whisker, just that they’re weird and scrabbly. As the minutes pass, the two sound sources separate and merge, each asserting its identity before combining with the other. I wish I could’ve been there to see what was going on – it was probably fascinating to watch the interplay.


* “Live Quicksails album, you say?” Naw, I’m just making that up.