Inaugurated in the autumn of 2015 by multi-instrumentalist Thor Harris after five years of touring as the percussionist of iconic avant-rock ensemble Swans, Thor & Friends is an elongated greeting and ode to Harris’ community, his woodworking shop, and the instruments his hands shape and bring to life. In true communal spirit, lineup of Thor & Friends expands and contracts with the flux of compositional and improvisational contexts. The range of tonal color depends on what instrumentalists are present or absent from the process at any given time. They can perform purely acoustic or shaded with hues of electronic instrumentation, as a stripped-down trio, or as a large ensemble.
Regardless of the group’s configuration at any given moment, Harris continuously draws on classic Minimalist composers like Terry Riley and Steve Reich as influences, but also more diverse acts such as Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, Moondog and The Necks. Of course, all of the music revolves around a polyrhythmic core of mallet-struck instruments, primarily marimba, xylophone and vibraphone. Circling these core motifs are shifting streams of everything from processed pedal steel and analog synthesizer to violin, viola, stand-up bass, clarinet, duduk and oboe.
Fans of Harris’ past projects and continuing collaborations will find occasional similarities to his work with Swans, Ben Frost, Bill Callahan, Hospital Ships, Shearwater, Adam Torres and John Congleton. They embody utopian optimism by rooting their art and operation in both improvisation and the involvement of neighbors and friends in their process, making use of what and who is around at any given moment to make music with.
On November 17th Thor & Friends will release their sophomore effort, The Subversive Nature of Kindness, via Living Music Duplication. This time around we find Harris spearheading an avant-chamber ensemble featuring Peggy Ghorbani on marimba and Sarah “Goat” Gautier on marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, organ, voice, mellotron and piano. The album was recorded in Albuquerque, New Mexico, produced by Jeremy Barnes from A Hawk & A Hacksaw and engineered by Jeremy and Deerhoof’s John Dietrich. It is hoped that the melodic meditations offered up on The Subversive Nature of Kindness will “ease some of the terror of living in these uncertain times.”
Today Glide is excited to premiere “90 Metres”, a lush, atmospheric instrumental. As he is wont to do, Harris makes percussion the driving force of the track while him and his bandmates build layer upon layer of fascinating sounds like sonic architects. Though the musicians are are constantly integrating an array of instruments and sounds into the track, there is a soothing clarity to it all that feels as meditative as it does transcendent. This is music that is as much about savoring as it is about floating away into a dream world. Ultimately, it embodies the project’s goal to be a vehicle for experimentation with the conceptual vocabulary of American Minimalism collaborating with a rotating cast of musicians from around the globe.
Photo credit: Thom Washburn