The Weather Duo are actually a trio, and they take an experimental approach to chamber music. The group's live performances feature sonic and visual elements, and they blend improvisation with contemporary classical music. The 10 compositions on their forthcoming album range in length from less than two minutes to more than 11.
All three members are 23. Double bass player Ben Willis and cellist Pat Reinholz are roommates who spent four years studying together at the UW-Madison School of Music. "We both kind of geek out over string music," says Reinholz. "We actually have conversations about things like subharmonizing." The group's sound brings together influences of jazz, classical, electronic and folk music.
Musical improvisation isn't the only thing that's spontaneous about their performances. The video components added by Anna Weisling are also improvised, based on the way the music sounds as it unfolds. "I've got a bank of hundreds of videos that I can pull from," says Weisling. "I'll have to be ready to go someplace I've never heard them go before, so I use a program called MAX/MSP/Jitter that allows me to combine any kind of footage that I have with live footage of them."
Willis and Reinholz see imagery not just as a supplement to sound, but as a separate artistic element they respond to in an effort to create inter-media improvisation. "We would like to be working more directly on the music being inspired by the visual element, rather than the other way," says Reinholz.
"It's worth noting, too, that improvisation has a much longer tradition in music than in film," says Willis. "So it's really stellar that she's able to do what she does within that medium."
Sonically, the Weather Duo emphasize the contrasting pitches of Reinholz's cello and Willis' double bass. You can hear that on "Entering Late," a piece that overlays meandering alto strings against a deep, extended drone. The resulting sound is sometimes peaceful, sometimes eerie and always deeply reflective.
Reinholz says the group's recorded compositions originate from improvisational jams. "We'll come across a sound we think is really cool," he says. "Then once we have a seed, we sit down with it and think, how will this sound? We should add a cello here. If we play a lick here together, it will propel things forward."
The Weather Duo use other musical toys to transform their acoustic sound into something that can sound electronic. "We both have effects pedals from the high school rock bands we played in," says Willis. "We thought it would be fun to incorporate those into our improvised sound."
Reinholz says the group prides itself on being unique. "What's really interesting about the group to me is that we're doing something that nobody else in Madison that we know of is doing," he says. "People are doing similar things, but there is no other cello-based, experimental, electronic, acoustic, improvised, classical duet."
Willis says he enjoys the group's musical dexterity. "Our improvisational approach to string music allows us to perform with all sorts of different genres," he says. "We've played with rock bands. We've done shows with hip-hop artists. We've done jazz shows."
It's a great way to meet other musicians, Willis says. "Our sound works within a lot of different contexts. We haven't found something that hasn't worked yet."
The Weather Duo perform at Project Lodge on May 15. If any loud traffic rumbles past on East Johnson Street that night, it won't bother Reinholz. "We kind of like it when we're playing quietly, and other sounds are happening all around," he says. "We aim to provide a total experience."