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- Roxy de la Torre
EXPERIMENTAL | Peter Margasak
Musicians who play in disparate styles in numerous projects are thick on the ground in Chicago, but even in their company Ben Billington stands out. Over the past couple years he's contributed to six different projects—perhaps most notably, he drums in manic free-jazz trio Tiger Hatchery and psychedelic trio Moonrises. He seems to have saved many of his best ideas for his synth-based solo project, Quicksails, which had three cassette-only releases in 2011, including October's A Fantasy in Seasons for influential Vermont label NNA. Though Quicksails nods to the neo-80s synthesizer music that's common in the cassette underground—you'll hear a few familiar tones and phrases—Billington is hardly just imitating late-period Tangerine Dream. His dark collages are meticulous and multilayered, with thoughtful structures and arcs of development.
A native of the Cleveland area, Billington, 25, moved to Chicago seven years ago to attend DePaul and has become a fixture on the experimental scene. "I've always been a percussionist who heavily relies on others to write music or improvise," he says. "I guess that's what going 'solo' is all about, but after playing music for 13 years I'd never tried. [Quicksails] is also my first attempt at recording my own music." As a producer Billington deftly mixes synths and samplers with voice, flute, and percussion.
He recorded A Fantasy in Seasons last winter during the sessions that produced its predecessor, Bywater Colours (Digitalis). "I purposely created different atmospheres with both records by a long process of sequencing and choosing which songs would go better with certain moods," he says. "Maybe I'm overanalyzing my own music, but I can't help it. Each moment of each record means a lot to me." Quicksails performs Mon 1/9 at the Whistler as part of a benefit for CHIRP. Billington's shows tend to be looser and louder than his recordings—he plays synth and sampler along to a cassette. Quicksails' first LP, a reissue of Silver Balloons in Clusters, comes out this spring on British label Under the Spire.