Some bands have a distinctive guitar tone; some, a vocalist whose every vocal tic couldn't possibly belong to anyone else. With Bell Orchestre, the identifying sonic signifier is much stranger. Audible throughout 2006 debut Recording a Tape the Colour of Light, it re-appears on their new album, As Seen Through Windows, a sound that's part Indonesian gamelan, part European church bells, both fed through a funhouse mirror inversion. But what is it exactly? "It's a sampled glockenspiel played back onto an old Dictaphone," says Richard Reed Parry, the instrumental band's co-founder and bassist.
There's nothing alien in Bell Orchestre's instrumentation - trumpet, French horn, violin, upright bass, drum kit - yet very little on As Seen Through Windows resides in the familiar. The carefully arranged compositions contain less of a clear delineation of who is playing what and when. "I think there are people in the band who would say the same thing," deadpans one of the two newest members, lap steel guitarist Mike Feuerstack. (The other is bass saxophonist Colin Stetson.)
Even sounds you assume are synthesizers are not; there isn't a single synth on the album. Engineer John McEntire (Tortoise) fed the instruments through effects - and often distorted beyond recognition - live in the tracking process. "The lesson we learned was to make what you want to make with the time you're making it," says Parry. "Our goal was to push it aesthetically, for it to be constantly surprising you, and not sounding like itself, in a weird way. I wanted there to be many overlapping different-sounding things that keep turning corners. It all sounded like one sound world, but many separate things inside of that. We didn't want it to be just another record that exists."