Savage Aural Hotbed

Article from Icon (October 15, 1998) - by Jacob Speer

Minneapolis percussion outfit Savage Aural Hotbed are really into power tools

Musical groups always say they are looking for a new sound or are constantly trying to evolve. Savage Aural Hotbed is no different. But the Minneapolis percussion outfit is willing to go a little farter than most in search of those new sounds.

"We usually have a few formal trips to the hardware store each year looking for new ways to create sound," Hotbed member Bill Melton said.

Using many tools and ordinary products found at hardware stores to create industrial sounds, Savage Aural Hotbed combines this with the more disciplined techniques of Japanese Taiko. The result is an original and exciting sound, as evidenced on their mos t recent release, Gomi Daiko. The Taiko drumming serves to lay a booming foundation that is constantly changing rhythm and volume against an array of sounds created by various tools used on pipes and barrels. The tracks offer a flurry of sound and rhyth m that is both powerful and pleasantly disorienting.

The blending of both traditional and nontraditional instruments creates an ever-changing tapestry of sound. The constant drumming, whether on Taiko drums or steel barrels, ties the sounds together and allows more freedom for the other instruments used. Melton said the group came upon Taiko from listening to the Japanese group Codo. Also, he said the group saw people playing Taiko drums on television during the 1988 Olympics.

SAH incorporates bass, clarinet, trombone and guitar into their music, but such instruments were not fully satisfying the band's urge to create original sounds. So they decided to create their own. They use sanders, torches, drills and handsaws. They c ut pipe with torches, use various objects to strike water and blow air through all types of plastic and metal pipe. And besides Taiko drums, the band transforms all types of barrels and other objects into something percussive.

New ideas for instruments are continually in development. For instance, bandmember Stuart DeVaan, who works in an electrical shop, recently came upon a new type of plunger in a hardware store that he hopes to use to blow air through pipes. Currently, th e band uses aircompressors, but DeVaan hopes the plunger will help create a different sound. Another idea the group is discussing is creating an album using lawn equipment, such as weed eaters hitting metal pools, lawn mowers and chain saws. The group h as performed before using lawn equipment on Father's Day.

SAH has been together for 10 years, and their relentless pursuit of new sounds in new combinations has paid off on several albums, including Cold is the Absence ofHeat, which won the Minnesota Music Academy Award for best album under the "Instrumental/Env ironmental/Experimental" category.

"The category was so far out there, but it was nice to be recognized for what we are doing," Melton said.

Already this year, SAH has been named best rock act by the Minnesota Music Academy. The award, beside their music, must have been at least partially due to the visuals SAH uses in their shows. Expect carbon dioxide drifting down from dry ice, fying spar ks, variously colored lights and elaborate costumes.

"We try to give the audience something to look at during the show," Melton said. "We feel that the audience seeing the tools making music increases the quality of the show."

SAH has about four different costumes that they wear during their shows. Sometimes they wear black garbage bag shirts with dark pants along with goggles. A concert reviewer described the costumes as making the members of SAH look "half Mad Max and half S&M." Although sparks fly on stage, Melton insisted the costumes are not for protection but only for show.

So if you would like to have your senses aroused by tribal-sounding drums mixed with the charged sounds of tools and other unconventional instruments, plan on attending SAH's concert Saturday at the Q. Safety goggles are optional.