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Binary System

As afternoon traffic whizzes down Andrews Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, drivers steal startled glances at brothers John and Bill Storch, busy being poked, prodded, and posed near the side of the street. The two, who have cultivated a reputation as composers of electronic scores to accompany experimental dance/theater pieces, notably in tandem with fellow artsy Lake Worthian Demetrius Klein (Bandwidth, February 1, 2001), are being photographically documented for yet another article about their musical exploits, and the photo session, which stretches on for nearly an hour, is quite tedious. During an especially dull moment, the two pause to light up a pair of comforting cigarettes.

"He started me smoking," accuses the 41-year-old Bill, with an ash-flick toward John, who is one year older and just a few inches taller than his brother and has a lot less hair. "I started him doing everything," he fesses up. Nudge nudge, wink wink.

The smoking started around age 12. By 18, the Storch brothers were '80s new wavers with requisite haircuts. Their first band was the new-wave lounge act Black Box Approach, with John on guitar and bass and Bill on keyboards, followed by the similar ATA-TAT. After graduating from Palm Beach Community College, the brothers decided to move to Boston in an attempt to crack open ATA-TAT, which drew heavily upon Gary Numan and Duran Duran.

"We lived a rock 'n' roll lifestyle with lots of drugs and drinking," says Bill with a wistful eye-twinkle. "They would not pick us up at bus stops. We were clothes freaks."

"We wore boas and fake fingernails and lots and lots of mascara," laughs John. "We'd go into thrift stores and buy old-lady dresses with beads on 'em and turn them into shirts."

Successful tours and singles kept the outfit buoyant until the brothers, who'd been making music together forever, experienced an eight-track epiphany: "Our friends called Sparkwire let us borrow their recorder at the same time they were stealing our guitar player from us," Bill explains. "John and I sat down and said, "We can write music alone without a band.' So we said, "Let's go home and do it ourselves.'" Spurred by their mother's death, the pair moved back into the Lake Worth home where they'd grown up and started doing just that, in their own hermetically sealed microuniverse.

"We didn't even venture around to see what the other bands were doing or anything," recalls Bill. Though the Storch family was heavily into classical music (which had a huge impact on the boys), the two didn't even take instrument lessons.

"Never," they blurt simultaneously. "We're not really chop players," Bill continues. "We can't get up there and play jazz or anything like that."

"We're mood players," interjects John. "We play by feel."

The brothers appear to have developed a sort of secret sign language. Manifested musically, "We don't even need to talk to each other," John reports. "We just kind of eyeball it."

Bill now lives down the street with his girlfriend and children, while John remains at the old house. "It's odd," he says. "Not much has changed; it's even the same furniture." In the back of the home in a small laundry room is the Storch Brothers studio. "It's like we can go run and hide out there," says John. Next to the dryer, the work began.

Ten years ago, world-renowned dancer Demetrius Klein began commissioning the two to compose music for his groundbreaking modern dances. They met the dancer through old friends Mark and Dan Leahy of Dow Raku Projects, frequent coconspirators who also rig up experimental theater and dance work. "Our friends who we work with trust us with what we're going to end up giving them for music," Bill offers.

These soundtracks have been archived on albums like Forgotten Spaces, Halos in Reverse, Little Star, Little Island, Discovering Zero, and Animadversions. Some of the pieces are as much as nine years old, though the brothers are finally cataloging and releasing the music on their own Lantern Records imprint. "We were sitting on a mountain of music," says Bill.

The Storches' compositions sound organically tailored for elliptical human movements and grand gestures, built as they are from synthesizers, drum machines, sequencers, samplers, and MIDI toys as well as occasional live bass and guitar. Some is whimsically suited for the children's productions to which the two frequently contribute. Some include spoken texts or nondenominational prayer (like "Starry Night," which the pair will perform next week at the Lake Worth holiday celebration of the same name). Some is pulsating, repetitive, mechanical. Or a deliberately disturbing atmosphere may build like a Bhopal cloud, unleashing what John calls "low-level drones that shoot out into noise blossoms." Pieces like the darkly tinted "Deux ex Machina" and "The Storm" are charged with an edgy calm not unlike that of the Aphex Twin. Others stretch endlessly like the buzz of a vacuum cleaner being dragged down a distant hallway.

Such exploits could be the product of serious aesthetes, but the Storch Brothers certainly are not. Look at the duo's complete body of work: They function as genre insurrectionists who devote substantial energy to disparate projects that couldn't possibly be further removed from one another. The experimental dance compositions are just one side of a triumvirate of radically opposing forces.

The first is Hillbilly Heart, a project with Yale Avenue neighbors Jeff Merckling and Marc Ward, formerly of an band called Lost Dogs. Plenty more friends, including guitarist Ron DeSaram, who also played in ATA-TAT, and mandolinist Andy McManus, who's known the brothers for two decades, joined in. Like a long-lost minor-league masterpiece from the pure prairie, The Cat's Out of the Bag is more akin to old Dylan, Stones, and Uncle Tupelo with not one synthesizer -- nor even a metronome to keep time -- in earshot. The album was recorded over the summer of 2000 at Ward's home studio, emerging sweet and almost tipsy.

"That's exactly it," enthuses Bill. "We drank a lot of beer and worked on songs. It was a process of going down there with a guitar in one hand and a six-pack of Miller Lite in the other. It was very, very neighborly and a lot of fun to do."

That tradition continues (though without all the beer, the brothers now claim) with new Hillbilly Heart songs being recorded, so another album seems likely.

To round out the package, Bill and John are an integral part of SoulXpreS, a disco-house project that is also a collaboration with old friends. Dennis Baker and Nifa Scraggins had been in the Storch circle since 1993 and had worked on dance productions with the duo when they wanted to record a few songs. "Commit to Me" and "Celebrate Love," both recorded in the laundry room, are utilitarian but soulful dance music.

Far removed, perhaps, from the early days and their dreams of the big time. What was the original Storch Brothers vision of success?

"A number-one record. Absolutely," Bill answers immediately. "Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. That's what we moved away for. But honestly, I don't think I look back on it too much -- the changes have been rewarding too. And all the music we've written. That's our reward."

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton

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