Yellow Swans

Fri May 14

Nocturnal, 1800 E Burnside

Over the past three years, Yellow Swans have blossomed from an aggro experimental punk group, to a not-so-aggro but musically adventurous ensemble who talk about "tones." A good transition, I say. Tonight, the duo (Peter Swanson and Gabriel Mindel), releases two albums--great multifaceted forays into electronic improv that sway from static magnetic crumples to rhythmic serenity.

Sadly, this night, they also bid adieu to Portland. Thus, an exit interview with Pete Swanson, co-commander and co-collaborator of local label Collective Jyrk (

Do you have an agenda? A raison d'être.

When we started, we were gonna be a punk band using electronic sounds. But the further we went with the band, we realized the limitations of our equipment. So we're pretty much entirely improv at this point. [Improv] is situationist--you're interacting with the environment in the actual time you're playing.

We're still focused on being a punk band, because we both came from playing in really weird hardcore bands. But we have eclectic tastes. Something I've always pursued with bands is, like, really extreme convolution--total confusion of references. See how much stuff you can throw into the pot at once and see what comes out. We're doing a weird electro acoustic folk record when we get to SF.

Maybe that's why I like your records so much--that they don't sound isolated to the rest of world.

I think that's part of it. Another thing is that, with the whole noise scene we get lumped in with, a lot of people--and this isn't a judgment on what others do--but a lot of people make abrasive, loud music to convey anger or frustration, and we're not trying to be assaultive. We're not trying to confront people. We're trying to make positive, fun music in a way, but be challenging at the same time. We feel that when our music is successful, it's really ecstatic and more like a celebration than an assault.

It's always weird talking about improv music; it's so nebulous, it feels almost awkward concretizing it with vocabulary.

Not a lot of people are exposed to improvised music and a lot of people think it's a weird kind of intellectual, nerdy, pretentious thing--and it's hard to explain it without sounding like a total jerk. But the thing is, that every band that I've been in, the songs we write have started out improv; I think all musicians start that way, but at some point people learn there's a process they should go through to compose music through repetition and exercise. But with improv, it's total instinct, total guts. I don't really like doing improvised music, you're putting yourself out there a lot more than bands with songs; you can completely fail in front of tons of people and you can't just go into the next song. If you're 10 minutes into something, and it's terrible, pretty much your best option is to stop.

So you're leaving for tour right after this show?

The show is absolutely our last hours in Portland before our national tour. It's weird, on one show we're opening up for DOA and the Dickies, and then we're playing a house show with Thurston Moore. JULIANNE SHEPHERD