There is a hypnotic quality to Pete Fosco’s guitar manipulations, an Ambient drone that suggests the casual intensity of Steve Reich or Brian Eno. At the same time, there are melodic and harmonic touches that lift Fosco’s sonic texturalism above the realm of simple ambience, to a place where tone poems and more traditional song structures and, perhaps more to the point, people co-exist and collide.
“Werner Herzog talks about ecstatic truths and this direct connection that happens betweens two humans, and not just as performer to audience,” Fosco says over lunch at the Greenup Café in Covington. “There’s this interaction that happens. It’s hard to explain. In three years of playing out, I’ve maybe hit it once or twice. You know when it happens. As far as the recordings, different people will take different things out of it.”
Fosco’s latest album, the about-to-drop In Electric Nights, is slightly more organic and cerebrally psychedelic than its predecessor, last year’s Crescent Avenue. Like a dreamy, Ambient vision of Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain, In Electric Nights is also more typically “song based,” featuring five shorter compositions, as opposed to Crescent Avenue’s 30-minute opus and two shorter codas.
“The new one’s more compact,” Fosco says. “There’s just five shorter tracks. There’s one song that’s nine or 10 minutes, but it’s going to be vinyl only, so I wanted to keep it to like 17, 18 minutes per side. You don’t want to compromise the quality of the sound for the format.”
Oddly enough, music came secondarily for Fosco, who began studying in the University of Cincinnati’s Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) program, then shifted to the College-Conservatory of Music’s (CCM) electronic media curriculum, from which he graduated in 2004. Originally intent on becoming a filmmaker, the self-professed “music nerd” shifted his focus to music, learning guitar after his CCM experience.
“I studied digital film editing and did a little music stuff, but I was never really totally satisfied,” Fosco says. “When I got done with school, I applied to grad school for film and didn’t get in anywhere. I was really angry at first but, looking back on it, it was because my stuff wasn’t very good. I understand now.”
Turning to his interest in guitar, Fosco bought a Telecaster and practice amp and began to learn. Although he took lessons from some adept teachers (local singer/songwriter/guitarist Roger Klug, among them), Fosco felt his creative muse being sparked by his previous ambition.
“A lot of film music, like Ennio Morricone soundtracks and Akira Kurosawa and Werner Herzog, the soundtracks to their movies,” Fosco says of his inspirational crossover. “And music like Popol Vuh, and Brian Eno was huge for me, the Ambient series and Music for Airports and early minimalism like Terry Riley. Even early Spiritualized and Galaxie 500 — I love their guitar tone. I listen to a lot of Pop music, too. I come home and listen to Townes Van Zandt, but I don’t ever have any thoughts of, ‘How can I sound like this?’ ”
While a good deal of Fosco’s sound is based in improvisation, there is a compositional element to his work as well.
“I’m not a great guitar player; I have a hard time remembering long, complicated passages,” he says. “But it’s kind of half and half. Some is improv and some is stuff that I’ve practiced in my bedroom and basement, and then I just see where it goes. It usually ends up not at all what I thought it would be, which is good and bad, I guess.”
Fosco has definitely kept himself occupied with his Ambient explorations during the past four years. He’s recorded a number of self-released and distributed cassettes and CD-Rs, culminating in the 2008 release of Crescent Avenue through Dead Pilot Records. That turned out to be a banner year for Fosco: He got married, bought a house, adopted a pair of dogs, released Crescent Avenue, recorded In Electric Nights, did a number of dates at the Art Damage Lodge (“We’re really lucky to have a venue like the Lodge,” Fosco says) and a limited 10-day tour of the Midwest and East Coast, live work that he hopes to continue in the new year, if at a slightly lighter pace.
“This year I think I’ll just sleep,” he jokes. “I’m going to work one week out of every month. … I’m kidding.”
PETE FOSCO (www.myspace.com/petefosco) performs Sunday at the CS13 Gallery (1219 Sycamore St., Over-the-Rhine) with Andrew Weathers, Slicnaton and Discerning Crane. Get show and venue details here.