"I've been performing chamber music (various bands, orchestras, and choral groups) my whole life, but contra dances since March of 2008," says Christopher.
Ross adds, "I started playing music in my elementary school band program after my parents brutally forced me to learn an instrument. I think they were getting concerned when they realized I was spending the majority of my afternoons watching old episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus."
They continue, "We were asked to provide electronic music for a late-night contra dance slot at Head for the Hills, Princeton Country Dancers' annual getaway weekend in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania, and given the success of that event, we decided to form a band."
Christopher continues, "In the spectrum of 'recorded sound' to 'live sound,' we try to lie squarely in the middle with a nice mix of both. In the future, I'm aiming for combinations of our own composed EDM tracks with 'fiddle' tunes of our selection or composition, and some re-mixed popular music with tunes."
They also add that "Phase X is an evolving project. We feel that it would be unwise to categorize our sound, as it will likely change a great deal in the near future."
Ross and Christopher are among the techno contra musicians who have a foot squarely in both the traditional and progressive sides of the contra dance music spectrum. I asked them how their work with other projects, such as Last Exit, influences their work with Phase X.
"I think each project gives us an opportunity to perform together and develop a common language that we can continuously build on. It is important for us to stay in shape musically; I feel like we often operate using a 'sixth sense' that allows one to know where the other is going and vice versa," says Ross.
"Our work in each genre has carried over into the other; one of our sets quotes a live recording of Last Exit, and we occasionally quote Phase X material in Last Exit," says Christopher. "For me, it's like a game, trying to figure out where I can fit in this or that thing and see who will notice."
What about the light show component?
Christopher replies, "It dawned on me a while ago that the lights could be a compelling part of the show, and could be controlled through simultaneously with the music. Many dancers see the lighting as an important part of the experience, so I thought I could take that experience to the next level. I've been discussing the lighting setup with Vince Budnick, and he and I are planning to spend some time working together on an improved light show over the coming months, with new lighting effects tightly synced with the music. However, I should point out that programming the lighting setup is intensely time consuming, and I think the music must be the main focus. Also, for now, because the lights require significantly more vehicle space, we will probably only use lights for relatively local gigs."
With all of the bells and whistles added, though, it is interesting to note that they still view themselves first and foremost as contra dance musicians. Christopher says, "[We] approach electronic music from that standpoint -- as an augmentation of the traditional material, not a replacement. Traditions are important, and I have no wish to throw them out, simply to expand the palette to include a wider selection of sounds."
Ross agrees: "I currently believe that there is a strong market for music that is more progressive than 'standard' acoustic music for contra dancing. Conversely, I strongly believe that traditional forms of music will always be prevalent and sought after, no matter how much electronic or otherwise 'crossover' forms are available. I think that many performers and dancers desire different music that pushes boundaries. It's our job to provide that music, along with deep traditional knowledge."
- Friday, November 2, 2012: Clemmons Civic Club, 2870 Middlebrook Dr., Clemmons, NC (near Winston-Salem), Workshop 7:40 PM, Dance 8-11 PM, $8 General/$5 Students
- Saturday, November 3, 2012: Guilford Grange, 4909 Guilford School Rd., Greensboro, NC, Workshop 7 PM, Dance 7:30-10:30 PM, $8 General/$5 Students
- Sunday, November 4, 2012: Clemmons Civic Club, 2870 Middlebrook Dr, Clemmons, NC (near Winston-Salem), Contra dance musicians' Workshop, then workshop band playing for contra dance, Dance 7:30-10 PM, $7 General/$5
- Head for the Hills Dance Weekend in Kresgeville, PA
- Swing 'n Tern (East Hanover, NJ), November 17, 2012
- CDNY, December 29, 2012
- Suzanne Patterson Center, Princeton, NJ, January 26th, 2013. (More details to come.)