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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Perhaps Contraption: ‘Twisted Brass, Avant Pop Marching Band’

(Perhaps Contraption)Members of Perhaps Contraption, from left, Jin Theriault, Charly Webber and Emily Cunliffe, performing at Harvard Square as part of the Honk Festival in Cambridge, Mass. (Qainat Khan/Here & Now)Christo Squier of Perhaps Contraption performing at a festival in the UK. (Perhaps Contraption)Perhaps Contraption in Harvard Square (Qainat Khan/ Here & Now)Hannah Davis, of Perhaps Contraption, on glockenspiel in Harvard Square. (Qainat Khan/Here & Now)

Perhaps Contraption is a self-described “astonishing, twisted brass, avant pop marching band” from London.

The members are a mix of conservatory-trained musicians and musicians from the art rock scene.

Their unusual instrumentation includes a saxophone section, drums, French horn, piccolo, sousaphone and glockenspiel.

Nine members of the band were recently on their first U.S. tour, as part of HONK! Festival in Somerville, Mass., Providence, R.I., and New York, N.Y. The Honk Festival is an outdoor music festival of street bands.

“There’s something really powerful about playing on the street acoustically, you can really connect with audiences,” Charly Webber, the alto saxophonist told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.

“We’re not confined to soundchecks and schedules like that,” Christo Squier, the artistic director and piccolo/flute player of the band, agrees. “So that immediacy, where we can change any given situation — a park or street corner and just perform — gives us a lot of freedom and a lot of power to change mundane situations and make them, hopefully, joyous experiences.”

Perhaps Contraption Interactive Music Video


  • Christo Squier, artistic director and flute/piccolo player of Perhaps Contraption. The band tweets @PerhapsContrap.
  • Charly Webber, alto saxophonist of Perhaps Contraption.
  • The rest of the band, who performed in the studio, include: Hannah Davis on glockenspiel, Riccardo Castellani on drums, Iain McDonald on sousaphone, Emily Cunliffe on French horn, Mickey Ball on trombone and Jin Theriault on soprano sax.





YOUNG: And that's the sound of London's Perhaps Contraption. Members described themselves as an astonishing twisted brass, avant pop marching band. No guitars but screaming saxophone solos, some pretty interesting sousaphone work too. Add a glockenspiel, a piccolo, some more wind and percussion instruments and you have Perhaps Contraption, on tour promoting its first album, "Listening Bones."

We'll hear from the entire nine-member band, filling the Argot Studios in New York. But first, let's speak with two, Charly Webber, alto sax player. Charly, are you there?

CHARLY WEBBER: Hi. Yeah, I'm here.

YOUNG: And Christo Squier, who also introduces himself as Squier Squier, the piccolo player and artistic director. Christo, welcome to you as well.


YOUNG: And start with you, Christo, you guys were recently in the HONK! parade here in Somerville, Mass., and Harvard Square. They clear all the streets and have all sorts of groups with horns marching. But other than that, where do you get to march?

SQUIER: We do a lot of festivals in the U.K., so that's a big part of our work. We are pretty busy in the summer doing lots of parades. And then we like to do guerilla street performances where we just go out and play for the joy of it.

YOUNG: Fun. And what do you mean, Charly, by twisted brass?

WEBBER: Well, we're not your traditional brass band, especially because we write a lot of our own music. We're very much originals project. We don't do many covers. So we're quite unusual. And we wear some quite stranger costumes. And we have some unusual instruments as well, like we have a French horn, which is not seen in marching bands.

YOUNG: Let's listen to a little more of how it sounds. This is "Cousin / Grandma."


PERHAPS CONTRAPTION: (Singing) Cousin, dad, cousin, cousin. Cousin, dad, cousin, grandma. Cousin, dad, cousin, cousin. Cousin, dad, cousin, grandma. Cousin, dad, cousin, cousin. Cousin, dad, cousin, grandma. Cousin, dad, cousin, cousin. I ain't got no cousin, no cousin, I ain't got no...

YOUNG: It's fun and it's kind of goofy, and it's - but it's also a little surreal.


YOUNG: What is that?

SQUIER: That song was actually a - it began life as a poem by an ex-member of the troupe. And she came up to me one day and said just that, cousin, dad, cousin, cousin, cousin, dad, cousin, grandma. And I said, could I possibly take that and construct a composition around it?

YOUNG: Wait, wait, wait. Why was that person saying that?

SQUIER: She is an eccentric poet.


SQUIER: So she's full of joys like that. There's some further lyrics that I added to that during the song that represent the interconnectedness of life and species and families. And a lot of the theme of the song relates around how you're finding your own part in the world, or you just can take it as some surrealist, delicious waffle and enjoy it like that.


PERHAPS CONTRAPTION: (Singing) Mama gone and left me. Cousin, dad. Mama gone away. Cousin, cousin. Mama gonna tell me. Cousin, dad. I've got no identity. I've got no identity. I've got no identity. I've got no identity. See the world, the world. Grandma, cousin. See the world, the world. Grandma, cousin. See.

YOUNG: What are the other things that you guys talk about, Charly, when you're coming to try to have your, you know, your mission statement, what it is that you want to get across to people?

WEBBER: We like to sing about life and enjoying life and dancing. Not just, you know, love songs. So many bands do love songs.

YOUNG: Yeah. Well, I'm not sure how a love song would go on a glockenspiel anyway.


YOUNG: I'm not sure how that would work. Well, your CD is called "Listening Bones." The song "The Ossicles" is literally about the bones in your ears?

WEBBER: Yes, yes. It is. It's - we enjoy talking about scientific things in some of our songs as well. And that's all about how the ears work.


PERHAPS CONTRAPTION: (Singing) Listening bones, little tools, ossicles move inside our ears. Listening bones, little tools, ossicles move inside our ears. Listening bones, little tools, ossicles move inside our ears. Listening bones...

YOUNG: It's a lot of fun. We'll have pictures at But it's also serious business. Charly, you're a classically trained clarinetist now playing the alto sax in the band. But then, Christo, we understand you have a more art rock background. So what happens when you have a classically trained or some classically trained musicians with art school students?

SQUIER: The way it's been working up until now is a certain member will bring a thread or an idea, maybe a lyric or a melody or a structural idea. And increasingly, as we perform together and we improvise together, we start to think as one mind. So it's quite an organic process. The more we play together, the more natural it becomes, which is really refreshing that it's not so prescriptive. But I think the Holy Grail for us is to be writing collaboratively where we can really read each other's minds and instruments and come up with music in that way.

YOUNG: Yeah. A mash-up. Let's listen to another song. This is "Breathe Your Breath."


YOUNG: You know, right there, we're hearing this is not your oom-pah band.

SQUIER: No. It's a strange approach to oom-pah with that. That was a nice dose of free improv in there as well. We like to improvise around different structures.

YOUNG: The U.S. - we, of course, have our own, you know, love of festivals and ritual. But is it the same when you come here and perform here?

SQUIER: We don't really have a street marching band scene in the U.K. The inspiration for this group came from - I went out to a festival a few years ago and performed with members of these HONK! bands, these street bands. And it really inspired me to put down my guitar, put down the amplifiers, unplug and approach the music with a different texture and instrumentation. So to be invited back to the States and bring our project, it feels very - it's just beautiful. And the reaction that we've had has been...

WEBBER: Yeah. The audiences are really, really - we have strong reactions from them. They're really engaged. They really watch what we're doing. There's something really powerful about playing on the street acoustically. You can really connect with audiences.

SQUIER: It is a very sort of direct media approach to performance because we don't necessarily have to amplify the instruments. We don't have to play in clubs. We're not confined to soundchecks and schedules like that. So that immediacy where we can just change any given situation - a park, a street corner - and just perform gives us a lot of freedom and a lot of power to change mundane situations and make them into, hopefully, joyous experiences.

YOUNG: The band Perhaps Contraption. Charly, Christo, thanks so much.

WEBBER: Thank you. Thank you.

SQUIER: Pleasure. Thanks for having us.


YOUNG: Ta-da. All nine members of Perhaps Contraption with an a capella version of "Breathe Your Breath," performed as they squeezed into the Argot Studios in New York. And, Jeremy, we have a video for their new single "Perambulation" at It is so cool. It's interactive because the musicians are wearing head cams so you can pick which musician's point of view you want. You can be a glockenspiel player for a day.


Yes. And I think that that was the - I just checked it out. That was the first time I've ever seen what life is like as a sousaphone player.


YOUNG: So you can get to know - it's sort of archaeological. You can have fun and do that. From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.

HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW.


PERHAPS CONTRAPTION: (Singing) Last dance, this is your last dance, this is your last dance. This is your last dance. This is your last dance, this is your last dance. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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