The first-time listener would describe Thollem Electric's influences as the atonal groaning that passes for shower singing and cats fighting on a piano keyboard. But the performer, whose blues, jazz and funk-infused musical ramblings—played progressively more in-tune with video by Italian filmmaker Tuia Cherici during his set March 21 at The Crux—bear examination.
It's the remoteness of Thollem Electric's music that populated The Crux with a select few meditative listeners, who sat cross-legged on the floor gazing at the images of plastic dolls, bubbles and unidentified organic matter being prodded and manipulated with surgical tools on the screen behind Thollem McDonas (Thollem Electric's one and only performing member) as he played synthesizer.
The sound is similar to the way a smell can evoke nostalgia, as though the world of forgotten and neglected things has its own soundtrack. It drifts in and out of style, rhythm and melody with improvisational interjections.
What separates McDonas' brilliance from the void of abstraction is his soulful deliberateness. The music, which can seem random, syncs eerily with what's taking place on-screen. McDonas mourned a prod dissembling a cassette tape with a torrent of blues-inspired chord progressions, only to pivot to funk when the tape was held above a can of bright pink paint.
"I'm a curious person. I think of it as a sonic adventure," McDonas said after the performance.
It's not an adventure that has already been written, either, and his improvisations reflect his changing musical relationship with the video.
"I'm learning new ways of interacting with these films," he said.
McDonas has spent much of the last seven years on tour, describing his domestic situation in a way that might be said to reflect the sometimes ambient, sometimes familiar, but always thoughtful state of his music:
"Many homes, no house."