In its five years of existence, Black Forest/Black Sea has cemented a reputation amongst connoisseurs of experimental improv, garnering wildly positive reviews from Pitchfork and British avant-music mag Wire. Now based in Pittsburgh, the duo of Miriam Goldberg and Jeffrey Alexander has toured extensively throughout the United States and Europe, combining American-primitive guitar and banjo-picking with otherworldly cello drones to create an entrancing sound enhanced by occasional electronics.
Goldberg and Alexander moved to Pittsburgh from Providence, R.I., last winter, bringing with them the band and a number of related projects. Both run Secret Eye, a record label Alexander founded in 1995 in his hometown of Baltimore. Alexander also actively books shows at several local venues, an extension of his work in Providence as booking agent for AS220, a well-known mid-level venue.
Black Forest/Black Sea quietly released a new 10-inch vinyl record, Portmanteau, earlier in the spring. The band's fourth release, it features the duo along with guest musicians Joseph Grimm and Margot Goldberg (Miriam's sister and a Pittsburgher as well). Divided simply into two improvised halves, Portmanteau layers simple underlying themes created by the string instruments with electronic noise -- sometimes raucous and sometimes shimmering, but never overly harsh. Side A, "Gemittarius," is largely quiet, the bowed strings taking the lead and percussive sounds acting as punctuation. The feedback manipulation that permeates the B side, "Aquemini," threatens to overpower the ensemble, but is always kept in check, never quite careening out of control.
That control and thematic sameness -- within reason, without inducing boredom -- colors the recording and BF/BS's music on the whole. It might be a stretch to call BF/BS immediately accessible to the uninitiated (experimental improv rarely is), but the music does appeal on a visceral level, creating emotional moments and ideas without relying on an assumed musical meta-knowledge as some experimental work does.
The band's appearance Fri., June 13 at ModernFormations will be its first in Pittsburgh since 2004 and its first since the members moved here; Margot Goldberg will join the duo live as well. Also playing are Ireland's United Bible Studies and Sharron Kraus, of the U.K. All three acts will appear the following weekend in Louisville, Ky., at Terrastock, a major nomadic psychedelic music festival, the most recent edition of which was curated by Alexander and Goldberg in Providence in 2006.
Black Forest/Black Sea with United Bible Studies, Sharron Kraus. 8 p.m. Fri., June 13. ModernFormations, 4919 Penn Ave., Garfield. $6. All ages. 412-362-0274 or www.modernformations.com