For those with a quiet, open mind — with the ears to hear it, as they say — the whole world is one gigantic, ongoing symphony. It’s an avant-garde piece, to be sure, a mish-mash of cacophonous traffic noises, bird song and wind chimes, classic soul hits of the ’60s and ’70s, belches and bitching, barks, gentle ocean waves, and so on, ad infinitum. We can’t control the cosmic stereo, but sometimes we can put ourselves in the sonic environment of our choice. Or just make an effort to appreciate the everyday sounds around us regardless of their inartistic origin.
Like grooved pavement. Lately there’s been a nice stretch of the stuff heading southbound on I-295 into Portland. Next time you see a sign announcing its arrival, turn off the car stereo, roll up the windows, and just listen — really listen — to the otherworldly hum these stone grooves produce in contact with rubber spinning at whatever r.p.m. It’s a sound human beings began hearing only about a century ago, and if public transportation is improved to the level it must attain to save the planet, almost no one will hear such hums half a century hence.
Kate Beever well knows this wonderful little secret, and on her solo debut, Rewild, she demonstrates it to brilliant and beguiling effect. A percussionist of impressive versatility who’s previously made music with Maine singer-songwriter Emilia Dahlin and psychedelic rocker (and husband) Jeff Beam, Beever is also a board-certified music therapist.
Her bio puts it well: “In her work as a music therapist, Kate Beever learned to listen — to chord changes and melodies, but also to the rhythms that surround us. Human steps, rustling leaves, an anxious heartbeat, a busy hallway. Kate’s hope is that this album of improvised music will inspire others to listen, too.”
Be forewarned: for most folks, the effort to appreciate Rewild will not be an easy lift. First you have to unburden yourself of years of culturally conditioned expectations of what a “song” is or should be. Getting lifted helps, as does meditation, or simply being a child.
Anyway, there are no hooks, verses, choruses, solos or syllables sung on this record. There is vibraphone, marimba, floor tom, shaker, gong, “metal bar,” tap shoes, “straw chair” and various other resonant objects, musical and otherwise. The track “Bristol Woods” is just a snippet of a rushing streamlet in (I’m guessing) the woods around Bristol, Maine. “Slow Bell” is a half minute of liquid sloshing around in something (on this and other tracks, subtle touches of strangeness suggest some of Beam’s psychedelia got mixed in with Beever’s stuff in the dryer; Todd Hutchisen and the crew at Portland’s Acadia Recording Co. did an ace job recording and mixing this unconventional album).
The real epiphanies here are the other six tracks, like “Paddle,” an exhilarating ride over chest-punching bass-drum thumps as wooden sticks clatter and a piano’s skeleton makes high-pitched, zithery sounds. “Knots” is a deft snare-drum-and-high-hat workout featuring the aforementioned tap shoes. On “Woodworking,” the marimba/vibraphone vibe brings Martin Denny (minus the hokey bird calls) to mind, as Beever explores sentimental-sounding melodies that keep wandering off the ballroom floor.
Rewild ends with “Catboat,” a lovely piano piece that’s unabashedly a “song,” in the traditional Western sense, elevated by that subtle strangeness I mentioned into what some call the realm of the sublime. The real lesson here is that so long as we’re alive, we’re always in the realm of the sublime.
For more about Kate Beever’s music and therapeutic work, visit mainemusicandhealth.com, or visit her eponymous Bandcamp page.