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Kihlstedt agrees, and says the act isn't consciously trying to shift the course of music or thought.
"I think that we all have a personal need to keep the music visceral and still something that the body can relate to, so it motivates you on a physical level and not just on a mental level," she offers. "I grew up playing in Bartók string quartets when I was twelve. But it's too easy of an assumption to say that classical music means not physical and not visceral, because if you take Bartók and listen to that shit, it'll rock your ass off. It's as body-based as anything. Especially where parts are interwoven and each person is responsible for a different part of the beat, and you kind of have to put yourself at the service of a larger group concept of beat and harmony."
Bartók takes a back seat during the Museum's latest effort, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum of Natural History. Another ponderingly complex, text-heavy affair, the followup explores the bestial genealogy between man and the insects. It raises questions about God, the future, the past and why a cockroach would choose to live in the trash instead of the great outdoors. In the album's accompanying pamphlet, there's also a point-by-point debate between various Futurists and the Unabomber.
"They really don't agree on much, except the need for some kind of immediate action," Frykdahl points out. "The Futurists were advocates of technology. They thought, 'Let's drive through the museums and annihilate the past and get all this garbage out of the way.' Kaczynski thought technology was reducing us to helpless, legless, soulless automatons who are essentially slaves to the society that further advances machine life.
"I'm not ready to publicly take a side with either," Frykdahl adds.
Even so, the bellowing frontman (who reserves his more elfin side for an acoustic act called Faun Fables) has no problem using the latest digital gear to capture field recordings -- especially if he can use them to juxtapose the sounds of the Okefenokee Swamp with an ancient tape of Marinetti's nonsense poetry ("Bring Back the Apocalypse"). Sometimes a hidden microphone yields even stranger spoken material: a drunk roughneck in Toledo who slurs on about the merits of "plagiarlism" ("Babydoctor"), or an unidentified Southerner who states that he'd rather keep his knife than lose it in the back of an enemy ("What Will We Do Without Us?").
"We record everybody who comes on the bus," Frykdahl confides, "secretly."
A sound laboratory on wheels, the band's touring coach has crisscrossed America several times, allowing the Museum to document its favorite people, parks and rest stops. And if the members ever play Italy, you can bet they'll make a holy pilgrimage to the birthplace of the Futurists. Then again, getting their gear across the Atlantic and through customs poses a few problems.
"We haven't figured out how to do that," Kihlstedt admits. "Maybe we could send Dan over earlier to rebuild all the instruments and keep 'em there. Then we'd have our European stash."
Either way, the Sleepytimers have come a long way since their first performance at an abandoned Newberry's department store in 1999. The grand unveiling was certainly advertised, but no one was admitted into the show -- except for a single, sexless creature covered in slime.
"We actually did find a banana slug in a park in Oakland and set it up in a fish aquarium on a table at the end of a red carpet," Kihlstedt recalls. "We treated it with as much respect as it deserved. Our primordial invertebrates don't get their due. We just thought it was time to celebrate the creatures who most embodied the essence of where we all emerged from."
So what became of the slug?
"We let it go afterwards," she says. "I'm sure it was very happy. I wouldn't have known how to take care of it."
Sounds like the slug was lucky. Apparently, the Museum had no use for a splatting sound on its new record.