Modality will tell you that the best way to understand their ambient-noise sound is to listen to them live, ideally at the sort of volume that crumbles fillings and causes brief but blissful vision impairment. That's basically true, but a trip into their Missoula practice space is just as enlightening. Let's take a tour, shall we?
Below the Badlander and west of the Palace are catacombs filled with offices and practice spaces that are rumored to once have been home to the flotsam of long-dead tenants of the Palace Apartmentssuitcases filled with zoot suits, bags of gold dust and incredible silk bowling shirts still reeking of Lucky Strikes. Some of the offices see sunlight when a door to the street opens. The practice rooms do not. They have bulky wood doors probably made from trees that saw Meriwether Lewis drop trou one gorgeous day in 1805.
- Photo by Michells Gustafson
Inside Modality's room, the possibilities of sound are evident. In the front, there's a drum set and a half-stack guitar amplifier. Microphone stands poke up at knee, waist and mouth level. Keyboards are stacked prog-rock style. Keith Emerson would undoubtedly disapprove of the tangle of cords and wires, the tape, the extension cords plugged into the outlet. The octopus emanating from the power strips. The light is somewhere between interrogation bright and sad Mexican airport bathroom. Bulbs seem to be on the verge of popping rather than simply quitting. In the back of the room, behind another door, there's a couch and a shelf filled with all manner of keyboard synthesizers.
Modality's space is a bunker. The walls are cool to the touch. Everything exudes a work in progress, a mess to be cleaned up later, after the important work is done. This is where synth player Ben Weiss, drummer Jay Bruns and guitarist Clark Grant create improvised music that builds from a single note or notion and drones from the keyboard amplifier for as long as it needs to. Often it's for many minutes at a time, minutely changing, challenging the listener. The guitar may respond to that note, but only when it's ready. The drums follow along until they decide it's time to move to another sound, another texture, another tempo.
Modality's sound grows so large that it escapes the bunker and moves upstairs, causing a noise complaint from, of all places, the Badlander. A man from the bar bangs away on the old door to the space. None of the musicians notice. Finally, the man flings the door open. The volume is enough to make him wince.
The third and fourth weeks of Modality's VFW Residency take place at the VFW, 245 W. Main St., Thu., April 26, at 7 PM (family-friendly) and 9 PM, as well as on Thu., May 3, at 9 PM, with a myriad of opening acts.