The Sounds of Science

Roaming the stacks with Seattle's Library Science.

The Sounds of Science

It is natural human instinct to hush your voice in the middle of a conversation when a cop walks by. Even if you haven’t done anything wrong, it’s easy enough to fall into a kind of half-sci-fi, half-conspiracy-theory sense that maybe you have, but just aren’t aware of it yet—especially if the cop is looking right at you. So when a cop passes Andy Arkley and Peter Lynch during a conversation with me, they lower their voices, which aren’t especially loud to begin with. They can’t be, since Arkley, Lynch, and I are at the downtown library, chatting amiably amongst the stacks.

Arkley and Lynch are used to putting sudden hushes on the noise they make. They play in a dub band called Library Science, which is the reason they’re downtown the afternoon after the Fourth of July—to do an interview in the new library’s science section. (Rim shot.) As it turns out, though, they’re more accustomed to applying the dropouts to their music, both in Arkley’s home studio and onstage. As Arkley explains after we’ve abandoned the company of hardbound, Dewey-decimaled astronomy guides and physics lectures for some chairs near a window, “Live, most dub bands just play, and someone at the mixing board dubs them out—adds echo or drops the instruments in and out of the mix or whatever. We do it a little more D.I.Y.—we have our mixers onstage with us and dub ourselves out while we’re playing. It’s kind of difficult to do both at once.”

Arkley is accustomed to multitasking. “The last surviving member” of his employer’s tech force, he’s also made a name among sampling geeks with his main musical outlet, the Bran Flakes. Both projects are highly playful, from conception on down. Lynch and Arkley even adopt pseudonyms for Library Science—Arkley’s is Mildred Pitt, Lynch’s is th’g’rd’n’r. (Live, the band is rounded out by drummer Tony Sacco and synth/melodica player Courtney Barnebey.) But the two bands are resolutely different. Bran Flakes albums like 2001’s I Don’t Have a Friend and 2002’s Bounces! are frequently kitschy sound collages, drawn from cut-out records, that have as much in common with They Might Be Giants as with DJ Shadow or the Avalanches. Library Science’s recently issued High Life Honey (released, as the Bran Flakes CDs are, on Arkley’s label, Happi Tyme) is less overtly goofy, but there are frequent whimsical touches. Though Arkley places Lee “Scratch” Perry a notch below Scientist, King Tubby, and Mad Professor in his personal pantheon of the great dub mixers, his frequent use of oddball sound effects (the last minute of High Life Honey‘s “Dummy Pants” resembles a dubbed-out episode of Ren & Stimpy, minus the dialogue, while “High Life Honey” is festooned with up-and-down vroooms that recall traffic noise) and try-anything attitude have more in common with Perry’s work than with the more straightforward Tubby and Scientist.

Which isn’t to say that Arkley or Lynch (who also plays with the Melody Unit) considers Library Science a dub band in the roots sense, despite a name that echoes the in-the-laboratory names of the early dub masters. “There’s a surprising amount of dub in the Pacific Northwest,” Arkley says. “But we’re not really a roots-reggae band—it’s more like we’re using dub technique, but with our own music.” Still, the one-drop rhythms that underpin much of High Life Honey, most notably the title track and the constantly shape-shifting “What Time Is Science?,” as well as the appearance in nearly every song of the melodica (the instrument of late, great dub musician and producer Augustus Pablo) fit the disc into the music’s tradition fairly neatly. What’s perhaps oddest, considering what a nonlinear form dub is by nature, is that High Life Honey is in many ways a more straightforward album than the Bran Flakes’ albums, which flit from sound to sound in an appealingly ramshackle way. If Library Science consistently upends their own groove, they always comes back to it, too.

Library Science play Graceland with Crown Aruba and Tuk at 9 p.m. Thurs., July 29. $5.

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