When people talk about rock 'n' roll, they're often referring to a group with a big guitar sound, a strong backbeat and a melody built around three chords. It's not always the most subtle music in the world, but if Elvis, the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen are any indication, those three chords can make stars out of some pretty ordinary people.
All Tiny Creatures, a local four-piece that includes members of an experimental rock group (Collections of Colonies of Bees), a prog rock band (Czarbles), and a Talking Heads tribute act (Houses In Motion), certainly knows the power of rock to charm and seduce. But it's the other side of what they do -- electronic experimentation woven into a live performance -- that's perhaps the most interesting.
Composer Tom Wincek knew this when he conceived the idea of the band a few years ago.
"It was much more focused in sound and concentrated on process than my previous solo electronic work, so I thought it warranted its own name, and I started looking for musicians to help play the songs live," he says.
Soon the other three members appeared, adding drums, bass and additional guitar and electronics. Before long, the group played its first Madison show.
This was all less than a year ago, in May 2008, but the quartet immediately started turning heads. Most recently, those heads were of the folks booking shows at , a Portland-based label that's also home to Stars Like Fleas and Megafaun.
A lot of this attention stems from the way the band merges a type of minimalism distilled from hours of studying Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley, plus an interest in the way Rhys Chatham fuses minimal composition with rock. Somewhat like Chatham, Wincek likes to begin with a foundation of minimal elements, then add a bit of a rock 'n' roll twist.
One example of this process is the song "To All Tiny Creatures," an instrumental piece that also inspired the band's name.
"I wanted to take a really small snippet of the chord progression that happens in the middle of the song, basically just a sound, and repeat it for a long time, causing tension, so that when that chord progression actually happens there's this sort of relief, but you're also sort of familiar with it," Wincek says.
This tension builds over the first half of the song thanks to a spooky, spacey loop from Wincek's Fender Rhodes piano and a haze of long, sustained notes that buzz their way in, then fade away. When the chord progression is unleashed at the song's midpoint, it's like a ray of light slicing through a dark stormcloud. Not only is it catchy like the hook in a traditional rock song; it's slightly shocking and eerie, like a moment of déjà vu.
While this song stands on its own, the band is looking forward to the release of its new EP, Segni, later this year, followed by a summer tour and a full-length album that will feature songs with vocal tracks as well. Of course, that's after they finish the task at hand: wowing the crowd in Austin.
An MP3 of "To All Tiny Creatures" is available in the related downloads section at right. More music by All Tiny Creatures may be found on the band's MySpace page.
MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.