‘Music is Still Secret’
Words by Audra Tracy — New York, NY
Brooklyn, New York — Do you ever wonder what happened to all your abandoned electronic toys from childhood? Are they in your attic? How ‘bout the hall closet? Well, you probably can’t find any because Marco Benevento has them all in his basement studio – and he’s probably having a lot more fun with that Speak and Spell than you ever did.
As one half of the Benevento/Russo Duo, and captain of his own Trio featuring Reed Mathis (bass) and Andrew Barr(percussion), Marco Benevento is making beautiful music in the most unusual ways.
While recovering from a performance at the Bowery Ballroom just a few nights prior, we step into the Benevento bubble to talk about Between the Needles and Nightfall, urban murals, alien voyeurs, and why he thinks music is still secret.
A New Jersey native, Benevento is a Berklee bred pianist and jazz revivalist who also likes to dabble in the art of audio insanity. Experimental musicians like Marco are using vintage electronics to add sound effects to their songs through a process called circuit bending. By altering the wire circuits of pretty much any battery operated toy, one can manipulate the sounds as if it were a musical instrument – creating unique, and often trippy accents to a tune.
The use of such sonic psychedelics can really enhance a live show, but these 80’s artifacts weren’t necessarily built for life on the road. “Along the years these toys have been breaking,” says Marco Benevento, “so I’ve been taking all my toys and recording my favorite ‘glitch’ that I have from each one. And I’m thinking another huge project would be to have like a CD-ROM of a sound library with all my sounds I have here – from a circuit bent Atari to just like a Casio keyboard or something”, he explains. “It would essentially be my studio, my brain, my basement.”
The circuits in that brain have fired off four solo releases since 2007, with the latest Between the Needles and Nightfall care of the Royal Potato Family. Familiar ambient architecture built by alternative bands like The Flaming Lips and MGMT are also lurking behind the many layers of Benevento’s musical mojo, especially on the bouncy “It Came From You” and the lush landscapes of “Greenpoint.” Drawing from his jazz studies at Berklee, his classical training rubs off on exploratory tracks like “Ila Frost’’ and “Music is Still Secret.” The trio also gives a nod to fellow Brooklynites The Dap Kings with an instrumental take on Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.”
– Marco Benevento
Staying in tune with the recent resurgence of vinyl, Between the Needles is on its way to a record store near you. “I got to hear the test copy, and I absolutely was floored at the difference”, he says of his first official vinyl pressing. “I think what prompted it was the album artwork – it’s from a mural right by a junkyard three blocks up, and my wife found it”, he describes. “She was like, ‘you gotta see this – there’s a keyboard, and a halfpipe, and all these bright colors!’ I used to skateboard when I was a kid, so I was just like, ‘whoa, those are my two favorite things!”, he exclaims. “So I went up there, and I just fell in love with it. It’s like a sixty-foot long, twenty-five foot high mural – it’s gigantic. It’s really colorful, so I feel like it fits the music really well.”
You could dissect any of the songs on Between the Needles for hidden meanings, but “Music is Still Secret” prompted further questioning. “It’s a secret way of talking to people that will never be decoded”, he says of his profession. “I feel like it’s still like this weird code. All these young bands are learning how to play jazz and rock and alternative styles, and every once in a while you stop and think, ‘oh my God – it’s just twelve notes’. It’s a powerful way to speak to people.“
The Benevento bubble floated higher as he adds, “I wonder if aliens were to come to our world and be like, whoa, what are these people doing? Like if they see a concert and think, ‘these people are just standing there looking at this band, and their ears are just sucking up all the sound, and somehow, through their ears, they think a certain way, or do a certain thing”, he jokes.
For those who are afraid of the word ‘jazz’ or even the mere thought of a song without lyrics, one live dose of the Marco Benevento Trio ought to cure you of your irrational fears. With high-energy shows and truly mesmerizing musicianship, Benevento, Mathis and Barr help to bridge the gap between Harlem’s old school and today’s indie uprising. Not only are they resuscitating a beloved American genre of music, they are making jazz fun for 2010 by adding playful elements like distortion pedals, 8 bit sound bytes, and super fuzzy hipster beards. Catch the Marco Benevento Trio on their last few East Coast dates before they set sights on Canada and the Northwest.
When asked if he thought his trippy-ass music was corrupting the youth of America, his quick and enthusiastic response of “I hope so!” was all this writer needed to conclude her call. Music may elude us forever, but no secret here – Marco totally rocks!
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