In Balinese mythology, Rangda is a fearsome demon goddess with a fondness for snacking on small children. Which makes it slightly ironic that Rangda, the band, is actually one of the more user-friendly projects that drummer Chris Corsano has been involved with. More commonly seen in the company of improv fire-breathers such as Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore, Wilco’s Nels Cline, or the astounding saxophonist Evan Parker, Corsano only rarely finds himself playing music with fixed melodies, regular chord changes, and a steady beat.
In other words, his collaboration with guitarists Sir Richard Bishop and Ben Chasny represents a change of pace for the soft-spoken musician, and he’s enjoying it greatly.
“Having songs has been kind of an eye-opener for me,” Corsano explains from San Francisco, where he’s getting ready to play a noise-oriented show with Harry Pussy founder Bill Orcutt. “Which seems totally odd, in the sense that most people play in bands that have songs, so it’s not new to them!”
Of course, it’s not like Rangda’s songs are going to show up on top-40 radio anytime soon. For one thing, this is an instrumental band; no one sings. And then there’s the matter of Corsano’s collaborators’ other lives: Bishop’s taste for snaky Middle Eastern melodies was inspired by his Lebanese grandfather and further developed with globe-trotting provocateurs Sun City Girls, while Chasny has been exploring unconventional sounds and structures for 15 years with his warped folk-rock band Six Organs of Admittance. On Rangda’s second Drag City release, Formerly Extinct, the three combine surf music, psychedelic rock, American primitive fingerpicking, Moroccan trance rhythms, and Egyptian pop in a blend that only occasionally veers toward the demonic.
Things might get stranger in concert, however.
“There’s a few things that we do that aren’t on the records,” Corsano notes. “They’re really loose structures that we just keep playing around with, and they’re different each time. So the live show is always going to be a little looser and more chaotic, which I like.”
While he’s in town, the drummer intends to do more than just a single show with his Rangda bandmates. He’s also been booked to play a solo set as part of the improv-electronic series Destroy Vancouver, and will give a percussion workshop at VIVO Media Arts Centre.
“I’m bringing a few things from home that I don’t play with in Rangda—kind of prepared-drum stuff, I guess you could call it,” he notes. “The solo show always involves some element of that. But it’s always improvised, without any preconceived structure at all. So it won’t be as song-ish as the Rangda show. Maybe you could call it a little more experimental, I guess.”
As for the workshop, Corsano intends to wing it there, too.
“It would be funny to talk about improvisation and then have a set spiel that you do about improvisation,” he contends. “I mean, if a bunch of super-hardcore improv people show up, there’d be no point in me trying to give an introduction [to improvisation], because everybody will already have their own opinion. So it’ll be more fun to just talk about stuff that concerns the people who are there. Maybe they’ll disagree with it so much that it’ll make them go and do a record about how stupid I am. That would be good too!”