Aug. 23, 2006 - Issue #566: Fractal Pattern
Fractal Pattern’s a blessing of the commons
Socially conscious instrumentalists eschew musical and political conventions on Absent
Admittedly, academic essays aren’t exactly the sort of thing that springs into mind when picturing the inspiration for a rock band, but then Fractal Pattern isn’t exactly your typical rock band. For starters, the group eschews lyrics and standard structures based around verses and choruses in favor of lengthy and unexpected instrumental adventures that wind their way through an uncharted sonic landscape.
Then, there’s the band’s instrumentation. Sure, the workhorse instruments of rock are all there—Dallas Thompson hits the drums and Hank Vanderbyl handles the bass while Nathan Setterlund and Andriko Lozowy take care of the guitars—but Jordan Fauld’s French horn also plays a prominent role, giving the group a sound that is a far cry from your typical instrumental rock.
And then there are the individual members, who are all committed to various causes ranging from the political to the environmental, and everything in between. What it comes down to is that the musicians of Fractal Pattern take their beliefs very seriously. Thompson confirms this over the phone from a restaurant in Winnipeg, where the band is grabbing a meal before heading out to play a show. He explains that every decision that the group makes is based on the band’s collective ethics.
“We’re all very passionate about environmental sustainability,” Thompson says. “When we did the packaging for this new album, we did what we could to find a manufacturer who could do the packaging on recycled paper and do it with soy ink and make the least amount of garbage as possible, because, admittedly, in 10 or 15 years our record is probably just going to end up in the dump anyway, so it’s better that most of that can be returned to the ground, as opposed to a jewel package that’s just sitting there not doing anything for 300 years.”
While it’s easy enough to talk big about doing your part for the
world, actually living it is another matter completely. There’s
frustration in Thompson’s voice when he talks about the tendency for
performers to say one thing on stage and then forget about it as soon as
they’re out of the public eye.
“I think that’s bullshit,” he says. “If you’re going to be true to your art then you should maintain those ethical decisions throughout the day.”
Faulds agrees, saying that everyone in the band is fueled by their knowledge. From her perspective, it’s just not possible to learn about the larger picture without becoming involved and at least considering what one can do to improve our collective future.
“It’s not like any of us can read the paper and just sit back and say, ‘oh, okay,’” she laughs. “Yesterday in the Globe and Mail there was a big thing about climate change and how it’s big business saying that it’s not happening, and Dallas, who has a biology undergraduate degree, was reading through it and just screaming at the newspaper. So, I think the more you know and the more informed you become, the harder it is to sit back and not have much of an opinion.”
One of the keys to Fractal Pattern’s sound is the way in which the
members’ opinions inform the music. Granted, it might be easier to get
their ideas across if the songs had lyrics, but Thompson says that the group
has no intentions of changing direction right now.
“Lyrics?” he chuckles. “No. It sounds kind of hippy dippy, but I think this is the best way we can explain where we’re all at at this point in time. I think that lyrics are kind of lame, anyways, and I wouldn’t want to write lyrics because I’m of that post modern mind where I think a lot of crap has been said and it’s just being regurgitated at this point in time.”
This is where Garrett Hardin’s essay takes a larger role in Fractal Pattern’s story. Inspired by Hardin’s essay, but not wanting to mangle his words in an attempt to turn them into lyrics, the band chose select excerpts from the paper and read them aloud, using the spoken word pieces as segues between the songs. At the same time, the musicians wrote their own essay discussing “The Tragedy of the Commons” and included it within the album’s packaging.
Thompson explains that the purpose of all this is to give the record some context. When the listener comes face to face with Hardin’s complex ideas, coupled with Fractal Pattern’s complementary essay, it seems like a disservice to the music to take the easy route and simply label the band’s sound as cinematic. This is music that demands that the listener think, which is exactly the point.
Of course, the reality of life in this world is not lost on Thompson. He is well aware that the band must still be financially sustainable. Thompson and Faulds both agree that it’s even more difficult to keep the band above water when they are more concerned with creating art than submitting themselves to tired formulas and chasing after a hit song.
To their credit, Fractal Pattern is willing to do whatever is necessary to
sustain the band’s existence. Right now, that entails a lot of school
and work, with three of the members enrolled at the University of Alberta,
another just getting ready to head off to grad school in Thunder Bay, and yet
another apprenticing as a chef.
With each member dealing with a busy life outside of the band, one might wonder just what this means for the future of Fractal Pattern. Thompson is quick to point out that the band is neither breaking up nor taking a hiatus, though he does concede that things will have to slow down to some extent to make room for everyone’s plans.
Still, Faulds sees a real advantage to the band having to share space in everyone’s schedules. “When music is the only thing in your life,” she considers, “I think it’s pretty hard not to be boring. And any art that you create as a boring person is, unfortunately, doomed to be kind of boring, so I think that everything we do really informs a lot of what we bring to the band as individuals.”
“It always kind of strikes me how much of a job it really was when I was doing music full time and going to school for it,” she continues, recalling the time she spent studying classical music in Montreal. “Now that I’m doing something else, I really appreciate being able to practice and get out and play a lot more. It’s not like going to work. It’s doing something fun and blowing off some steam.”
In the end, Thompson is happy with where the band is at, even if it can be a struggle to keep things rolling ahead at times.
“We function completely independent and off the radar,” he sighs. “We’re not on a big fancy label, so we do everything ourselves a hundred percent DIY, and it’s got its ups and downs.
“But, then again,” he continues, pausing as he considers the other side of the situation. “Being on tour with a bunch of your friends and going to see friends in other cities and seeing the beautiful country is enough in and of itself, so I’m not complaining in any way.” V
Sat, Aug 26 (9 pm) & Sun, Aug 27 (11 am)
With The Last Deal, Woodpigeon (Sat);
No Hands, Woodpigeon (Sun)
Sidetrack Café, $12 (Sat), $10 (Sun)
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