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  • Mandible Chatter's musical grace is food for ears

    By Chris Ayers
    Special to The Herald

    (Published September 18, 1998)

    From the Melvins and Machine Head to Skinlab and Subarachnoid Space, San Francisco has always been a hotbed of sorts for a diverse lot of bands. In 1994, the Bay area felt the tremor of "Hair Hair Lock & Lore" (Russell Records), the debut release by Mandible Chatter - the quite literally dynamic duo of Neville Harson and Grant Miller - sonic architects of sidewinding ambience.

    Less dark was 1996's "Grace" (Manifold), a true exercise in vocalless variety. The nature sounds of "Beyond The Valley Of Blue Rosebuds," the Pink Floyd acoustics of "Forty Mile Lullaby," and the Vangelis overtones of "The Elements" are packaged in drifting tones of profound serenity. Their newest album, "Food For The Moon" (Manifold), infers similar sentiments.

    The Lull-like swirling drone of "Blessings From The Kingdom Of Silence" and the "Ummagumma"-era Floyd foray of the 30+ minute epic title track shimmer with a palpable sheen. With "extra tweaking" provided by Chad Jones of ethno-ambient Totemplow, the change-up comes in "Sad Tree Song," a very accessible, almost cybercore ditty with real vocals, fading out in a Robert Fripp-ish soundscape.

    A mˇlange of different textures, the band's ambience is calculated and initiated with the listener in mind. "It's my conscious effort to put out albums that're like a journey where you can sit and listen for 60 minutes and not get bored," explains Harson over the phone. "Most ambient/industrial people tend to do more or less one type of thing for a 60-minute disc."

    Without the use of synthesizers or rhythm machines, the only electronics the band endorses are samplers (via guitar effects pedals) for loops and drones. "Mostly it's guitar and microphone feedback manipulated somehow," says Harson. "Plus I have a turntable; the old ones used to have 16, 33, 45, and 78 rpm, but I have one that plays at 8 rpm to slow things down instantly!"

    Unlike many ambient acts, Mandible Chatter strives to be more than simply melancholic despondency. "I basically wanted to say something a little more positive and uplifting without having to resort to New Age, sugar-coated, everything-is-wonderful sort of music," intones Harson. "I did the darkness thing for a long, long time, but the older I get, the more I want to have beauty in my life."

    Miller sees their sound from a more analytical perspective. "We bring it together in the studio and mix it into a stew where we figure out what sounds can go with other sounds. Then we have this multi-layered mess that we have to come up with an arrangement for; sometimes we work backwards that way, kind of through attrition to come with something that sounds organized from just mishmashed nonsense."

    With such cerebral performances, crowd response to the band varies slightly. "Ordinarily, people are silent and considerate during the performance then express some sort of appreciation afterwards," says Miller. "They're usually pretty ebullient and mystified. We've done really good shows and really bad shows, from people cheering us on to, during one show a bunch of years ago, I could swear I heard people mooing like cows in the audience!"

    All Mandible Chatter albums - including "Food For The Moon" - and other ambient/experimental recordings can be purchased directly through Manifold Records, P.O. Box 820266, Memphis, Tenn., 38182 or by accessing the label website at www.manifoldrecords.com.

     Copyright © 2000 The Herald. Rock Hill, South Carolina