Smile Politely

Tune in to Bode Radio’s frequency

Bode Radio do not write songs; they create compositions. At least that’s how they referred to their work when I spoke to the duo en route to a show at The Hideout in their native Chicago. And for as self-assured and glossy these “compositions” appear, beneath the surface there is hard work — gigging everywhere from house venues to art shows to bars, sampling scores of unique sounds and one on one collaboration.

Alex Yoffe and Spencer Herbert had played music together in high school, but they kept playing through college (Yoffe even went to school for music composition) so when Yoffe asked Herbert to join him in a new project, the two already had a sense for what it was like to work with each other.

“It was kinda cool to come back and do something that was so far from the traditional band that we’d been doing before,” Herbert said. “Doing this type of duo music is a cool partnership.”

The type of music Bode Radio makes is hardly traditional in any sense. Compositions, maybe, but perhaps these creations would be best described as soundscapes – layers on top of layers of pleasant noise.

The magic of Bode Radio is that they can do what they do without being categorically “glitchy” or “trip-hop” but rather tease those ideas while remaining grounded. It’s spacy music but clearly tied to this world. 

It could be the sound of train track vibrating, a cello, or even a Javanese gamelan, the traditional cultural musical performance of Indonesia, which Yoffe sometimes performs, that gets sampled into the music.

“I base a lot of my compositional process off of my influences and naturally I’m very highly influenced by gamelan music and the formal structures that they use in the music,” he said.

Listen closely and you might hear the gamelan. You might also catch some jazz influence. Or pay attention to the live instrumentation. Or completely space out – there’s more unique sampling to come. Number stations are going to provide the canvas for the duo’s new album.

“They’re a hidden band of radio frequencies that were used during the cold war between the USSR and America. They still exist and they broadcast today on weird bands of radio, but they’d be repetitive messages. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – that was one of the secret codes that the USSR was sending to one of their spies within the US,” Herbert said. “A lot of these number stations have been incorporated in compositions but they haven’t been featured throughout albums. They’ll take a little section of it and they’ll sample it. We’re building around sounds from those number stations.”

Just the right mixture of bizarre samples, actual instrumentation and the whimsy that comes from working together for so long goes into these compositions, and what comes out wows the masses but gets much appreciation from other musicians as well.

“It’s not like we don’t play in front of people but a lot of bands who see us play, a lot of other musicians, they usually enjoy it. And we’ve had bands that are so far from what we do enjoy what we do,” Herbert said. “It’s been kind of fun to have a garage rock band or a hard rock band, or even some really odd DIY bands that we’ve played with enjoy what we do, and we enjoy what they do.”

Herbert described other musicians as “more open minded in their listening and thinking,” but really, a close-minded person wouldn’t have any trouble enjoying the soothing, tranquil compositions of Bode Radio. What an open mind sees is the complexity behind those compositions, the thought and effort that went into them in addition to the pleasuring outer shell.

Bode Radio are playing with Acker, Comfort Food and Marathon on Friday at Mike ‘N Molly’s. Check the Facebook event page for more info.

Related Articles