R We Who R We – Ted Hearne and Philip White in collaboration
by Jacob Mikanowski
For one week in March, Ted Hearne and Philip White will be bringing their musical collaboration R We Who R We to High Concept Laboratories. The simplest way to describe what R We Who R We does and the radically odd and completely beguiling music it makes is to call them a deconstructionist cover band. They take pop songs by Michael Jackson, Ke$ha, Eminem and subject them to a series of arbitrary procedures like alphabetizing the lyrics, reordering measures, or moving the backup choir to the solo mic. This results in songs which have been turned inside out, flipped, gutted, torn apart and reassembled, barely legible but still themselves. As Ted says, the process works best when the song “floats on the edge of being recognizable…. when it is right at the edge, I can recognize this, but I don’t know where it’s coming from.”
Musically, R We Who R We thrives on exploiting the dissonance between melody and noise, and their songs get their energy from pushing order towards entropy. This approach is rooted in Ted and Philip’s differing musical backgrounds: Ted comes from a background in classical composition and vocal performance, while Philip comes out of the world of sound art and noise. The two met when Ted saw Philip performing at a noise show; “it was like watching him surf…working this huge machine.” Philip explains what he does now as “trying to reproduce pop production in an instrument where that is completely impossible,” maintaining “a 4/4 beat with all this chaotic sound.”
By treating pop songs as a base for improvisation and a source text to be honored, R We Who R We join a lineage of other artists who found their energy and structure in the ambient culture. The Situationist term for this is détournement: taking something out of its normal context by deflection, diversion, distortion, misuse, misappropriation, or hijacking. The songs R We Who R We begin with are part of the air we breathe. The songs they make are something else again. Not drowning in noise, but dancing to it.
Ted and Philip’s first performance at High Concept Laboratories will take place on March 10.