There is a video of Mary Lattimore sat behind the harp in a dimly lit room at her home in Los Angeles. Her task in the clip, handed down by FACT Magazine, is to create a song, from nothing, in 10 minutes, using only her 47-string instrument and a loop pedal. She starts out with an innocent, wide-open, four-note melody, leaving herself enough room to circle back around, quietly bolstering the bass notes and adding in tiny harmonic trills that sound like pinpricks. But around four minutes in, she’s filled every inch of space in the mix, like a pointillist at the edge of the canvas. So she starts to pull things apart. She taps her silver ring on the solid border of the harp at odd rhythms, creating the impression, when played back, that something is stumbling; using her pedal, she warps the tracks back on themselves, so that, briefly, the song seems to be inhaling. By the end, there’s only a shadow of her opening frame left over, and the song is teetering on the edge of atonality.
Spontaneity and augmentation have always been Lattimore’s defaults. “I want to get a full range of the sounds that a harp can make” she told me last year. “I want to explore.” And that’s never been clearer than on New Rain Duets, her stunning, slow-moving collaborative project with Mac McCaughan of Superchunk, premiering below ahead of its full release this Friday via Three Lobed Recordings.
The album is a live recording of the duo’s first session together, in the spring of 2017, with the shock of the presidential election still raw. McCaughan is on the synths, oscillating between gauzy whispers and raspy, low end interjections. Lattimore fades in with music-box melodies, then pulls them apart note by note. The record is, in places, blissful. “It was not a response [to the election] in the same way that the most recent Superchunk album is, for instance,” McCaughan wrote in an email to The FADER yesterday. “But once we got into it, the appeal of playing music that is instrumental, and beautiful, with long pieces, became clear.”
The moments of chaos here find resolution. “III” is disquieting, with McCaughan’s echoing, saw-like synths jutting up against Lattimore’s arrhythmic, trembling harp, but it exhales into a closing track that eventually drifts into near-silence, the duo falling back into the same key. “Since this project is instrumental, I think it gives the listener space to use it any way they’d like,” Lattimore wrote to The FADER. “It’s calming and can be ambient, or you can see the quiet adventure in there, where each choice we make is in the moment and how response to each other was created by really active listening and playing.”
Listen to New Rain Duets in full below and pre-order the album here.