Red Horse have played just a handful of shows, but they’ve made the most of them, establishing a reputation as a ferociously original live act. Using an ever-changing array of homemade electronics, bowed metal, drums, and more, multi-instrumentalists Steve Pyne and Eli Keszler turn out a complex, agitated mix of tightly controlled, pulsating feedback and blistering percussion.
In the beginning, in the summer of 2006, Red Horse was a Pyne solo project. A talented guitarist and Berklee grad, he’d begun to work with feedback and circuit-bent electronics. These experiments became increasingly elaborate, culminating in the creation of the red horse itself: a large, fire-engine-red electronic organ that he rigged to produce pulsating waves of feedback. He had a couple of incendiary (no exaggeration: the organ’s antiquated wiring was prone to sizzle and smoke) live sets under his belt when he met Keszler, a dynamic drummer who was studying percussion and composition at New England Conservatory.
“It was clear that we shared a similar musical æsthetic after an improvised session at my old apartment in Roxbury,” Pyne recalls. “What followed were regular meetings with Eli and certain friends from New England Conservatory. We experimented with tape loops, contact mics, mixing boards, empty oil tanks in the basement, organs, circuit-bent electronics, anything lying around.”
“I was pretty blown away,” Keszler says of these early sessions, which Pyne documented on both tape and video. “This went on for a few months — each time a new recording and a new and amazing configuration in his house, till the number of people started to dwindle. Steve had started playing around Boston on his own. He invited me to play with him one time, and it just seemed to click.”
The newly expanded Red Horse played three shows in quick succession (the last at the Ark loft space in Chinatown), each with a slightly different, serpentine configuration of instruments, among them gongs, crotales (tuned cymbals that when bowed produce pristine overtones not unlike a glass harmonica), and Pyne’s constantly mutating system of homemade effects boxes, organs, and electronics. Then Red Horse fell quiet, as Pyne took a break from performing. Keszler released a pair of solo CDs on his own Rel Records label and finished a full-length that’s due out this month on Providence’s Rare Youth imprint. He also developed a formidable duo with singer and reeds player Ashley Paul — the two will be Artists in Residency at the Issue Project Room in Brooklyn this spring.
In recent months, however, Keszler and Pyne have rekindled Red Horse. They’re recording material for the first Red Horse full-length; they’re also putting together a DVD that will include footage from their live performances and possibly some snippets from those formative basement sessions in Roxbury. And at long last they’re playing live again, at the Middle East upstairs on February 11, their first show in more than a year.
What to expect? Well, it’s unlikely the venerable (but very heavy) red organ that gave Red Horse its name will be in the mix. “To be honest, I’m not sure yet,” Pyne admits. “I do like the idea of using a slightly different set-up for each show. I had a willing roommate with a large enough van to fit the organ for a number of shows. I scaled down to a Vox Continental organ, the same one used by John Cale on his amazing Sun Blindness Music. However, that organ is somehow lost . . . ”