Bing & Ruth's 'Species' Is as Monotonous as the Desert Dunes That Inspired It
Published Jul 15, 2020Bing & Ruth is New York composer and pianist David Moore's chosen vehicle for exploring ensemble-based music in the so-called minimalist tradition. Trained at the School of Jazz and Contemporary Music at the New School, Moore takes cues from fellow New School associates Philip Glass and Steve Reich's more cinematic, piano-forward music. Debuting as an eleven-person ensemble including voice, clarinet, cello, double bass, percussion, tape delay and piano, Moore has spent a decade and three LPs slowly stripping Bing & Ruth's excesses down to seven and then five players. Species is ostensibly the first Bing & Ruth album that substitutes this incremental paring down with a real sonic overhaul.
At the centre of that overhaul is the Farfisa combo organ. By ditching the piano in favor of an organ, Moore has drastically changed the tonal complexion of Bing & Ruth's music. Capable of much more sustain and saturation than the piano, the Farfisa has forced Moore away from his usual plaintive or percussive roles within the ensemble. Fully appreciating the Farfisa on Species, though, requires consideration of two other essential elements in the album's composition: the desert and the long-distance run.
Much of Species is a reflection on Moore's time spent living near Point Dume in Malibu, CA. Situated between the desert dunes and the ocean waves, Moore found himself entranced by this environment and took to running as a means of exploring the landscape. The Farfisa is well-positioned to capture this dynamic, with its sustain and pitch warbles invoking desert and ocean waves. The choice of ensemble cast also serves to reinforce the physicality of Moore's location. Rounded out by clarinetist Jeremy Viner and double bassist Jeff Ratner, Bing & Ruth sound surprisingly lithe and more able to approximate the motion of human feet. The music no longer sounds like it's about vast expanses, as it had in the past, but about how a human body navigates its way through such spaces.
If there is anything that puts a damper on Moore's successful musical approximation of those Point Dume experiences, it is his inability to transfer what made previous Bing & Ruth albums compelling into this new sound. With less tonal options at his disposal, Moore can't rely on the introduction of newer sonic elements to propel a piece forward or surprise a listener. In this sense, Moore really does achieve the album equivalent of running through the desert. Every step is like the last, every dune made up of the same inconspicuous pebbles. Species can make for an exceptionally trance-inducing listen if you have it in you to push past the monotony. (4AD)