Soundbites: Tom Pearo Gets Mathematical; the Return of Chin Ho! | Music News + Views | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Music » Music News + Views

Soundbites: Tom Pearo Gets Mathematical; the Return of Chin Ho!

By

Published August 24, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


Shay Gestal and Tom Pearo - COURTESY OF LUKE AWTRY PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Courtesy Of Luke Awtry Photography
  • Shay Gestal and Tom Pearo

Like many a suburban moppet who grew up dreaming of being a big-time rock star, I skipped the music education part of becoming a musician at first. Instead of enrolling in lessons or joining the school band, I stole my brother's guitar and argued with my parents about growing my hair out. My denim jacket, covered in patches from my favorite bands, was perfect. My actual skills? Rather nonexistent.

The "education" in my musical education wouldn't come until I was older, and it involved a lot of sweating and frustration. Music classes are all very sexy when you think you're learning how to rip an amazing solo, but the illusion is punctured when a drummer asks you about time signatures.

"Math?" I hissed at the first bastard to ask me such a question. Maybe I even grabbed them by their lapels and shook them as I shouted: "What the hell does math have to do with rock and roll?"

The answer, of course, is everything. Going all the way back to the original math rocker, Pythagoras, who basically discovered pitch through his experiments with weight and vibration, math and music have been odd but consistent bedfellows. Much of music theory is a mathematical study used to decode essential tenets such as form, meter, tempo and chord progressions. There was even a time when harmony was considered a fundamental branch of physics. Philolaus and Archytas, two of Pythagoras' disciples, posited that "all nature consists of harmony arising out of numbers."

If any of this is generating uncomfortable flashbacks to your high school years, you're not alone. When I sat down with Burlington ambient music wizard Tom Pearo recently to talk about his new record, The Beautiful in Between, the last thing I expected was for him to start talking about math.

When he originally pitched a story about the new LP, he said it was a sort of lost-and-then-found album, a piece of music Pearo started recording while living in a recording studio in Essex, pre-pandemic. Between moving and other projects, Pearo had shelved the music that would become The Beautiful in Between. He'd forgotten about it until he stumbled onto the files several years later.

"I was flabbergasted," he recalled. "The music was so beautiful, and it was all right there already. The sounds, the tones, the vibes. I almost couldn't believe what I'd been sitting on."

The music on the new LP showcases the interplay between Pearo's searching, monk-like guitar lines and Shay Gestal's ethereal violin work. Together, the two create a shimmering sonic waterbed, a feeling of light moving across water. It's breathtaking stuff and is both in line with Pearo's über-chilled-out catalog and a slight deviation from his previous records, such as Headspace and I Am a Mountain. It's an album that's uninterested in telling a story but rather brings the listener into the present. It's a musical snapshot, the equivalent of seeing a double rainbow or a meteor in the night sky.

Yet, in our conversation, we barely talked about the sounds of his new record. Instead, Pearo was fired up about a 20th-century mathematician named John Conway, who in 1969 invented a set of numbers that the Liverpool, England, native dubbed "surreal numbers." The system is based on an ordered class of numbers that contains real numbers, as well as infinite and infinitesimal numbers, composing a nigh limitless universe that Conway said was like looking at an endless sea that no one had seen before.

Brimming with excitement, Pearo took out a piece of paper and wrote out a series of figures for me: { 0| }, { 1| }, { 0|1 }. He explained that, using surreal numbers, those figures represented, respectively, the numbers one, two and one-half.

"You see?" he asked me, all but giddy.

"Totally," I lied.

"One-half is in between zero and one, dude!" he exclaimed. "The essence of the system is defining numbers by what is greater or lesser than them. You see? Numbers aren't these solitary, lonely values anymore. They are truly in between."

This concept inspired the title of Pearo's new record. The synchronicity of choosing the album name and his come-to-math-Jesus moment happened while he was forcing himself to dwell utterly in the present moment. Walking down a Burlington street on a sunny day, listening to the just-rediscovered mixes, Pearo shut out everything in his mind but the music. When he closed his eyes, he saw the numbers, and he saw the spaces in between them, the infinite possibilities.

"To be honest, this record led me to this new system of thinking about numbers," Pearo admitted. "When I created the record, I really tried to let my heart lead me rather than my head. But my life is inextricably tied to mathematics and music. They really are one and the same for me. Dividing a number like one into an infinity of numbers ... is like hitting the perfect note that just leaves the audience feeling amazing."

Now, if you think listening to The Beautiful in Between will help you decode the mystery of surreal numbers, let me stop you right there. The correlation is more of a spiritual one than some sort of exercise in writing in strange time signatures or harmonic experimentations. Pearo's new record is rather a study of what it feels like to dwell in a world of total possibility and endless space, with crystalline notes of guitar and violin dangling over the arrangements and spreading out like beams of light across the universe.

I told Pearo as we parted that I "sort of" understood what he was talking about, and, indeed, I did grow to grasp the concept the more I pondered it. I'm not sure whether I have it all straight yet, but one thing Pearo said stuck with me:

"You know, somewhere out there, far, far away, every bit of music ever played is still playing. Now, that's freaking amazing!"

BiteTorrent

Chin Ho! - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Chin Ho!

In today's blast-from-the-past news, we have the return of former Burlington indie rock royalty Chin Ho! The band, a stalwart of the city's music scene in the '90s, has shaken off a hell of a lot of dust since its last album, 2000's The Girl, to release Mausoleum: Rarities Volume 1 (Red). Consisting of hard-to-find tracks from out-of-print compilations and rare B sides, the album captures Chin Ho! at the height of their powers, when they were touring relentlessly and releasing records regularly.

"We are happy to finally get our music out there for our fans but also for a whole new generation to perhaps discover," bassist Chris Parizo wrote in a press release for the compilation. "There was no Spotify or Instagram for us back then. We marketed with posters, stickers and mailers. Contributing our music into the social media ether is equally exciting as it is frightening to us grizzled old-timers."


Mango Jam with Sen. Bernie Sanders - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Mango Jam with Sen. Bernie Sanders

In my roundup last week of the frankly absurd number of shows happening in Vermont this Saturday, August 27, I forgot one! (Shocker, I know.) That would be the fifth annual Cajun Zydeco Fest at Kampfires Campground, Inn & Entertainment in Dummerston. The lineup includes Burlington zydeco and funk act Mango Jam, as well as other New England-based creole-inspired bands such as Back O' Town Cajun Band and Gumbo Jumbo Dixieland Band. Presented by Whetstone Beer and TD Bank, the fest also features all the gumbo and jambalaya one can handle, as well as plenty of beer and yard games. For more information and tickets, visit whetstonebeer.com.

Disclaimer: Seven Days senior account executive Michael Bradshaw plays in Mango Jam.