Alias & Tarsier

For Brendon 'Alias' Whitney, Southern Maine was home. It's where he started. Where he first ran wild. Where he first heard music. Where he first dreamt of big cities and looming soundscapes and art as something even bigger than the night skies above his wooded town. Music was in the family. Mother was a hobby-shop clerk who played organ at church; father was a firefighter who hit the skins by night. Still, between his strict Catholic upbringing, the acres of uninhabited land and the lack of cable TV, young Bren had to look a little harder to catch a glimpse of his vision in the physical form. But when it finally happened, out there in the forest on a boombox in the dark (with a looped tape of rap artisted from a late night music video show), it happened hard. That Christmas, Santa brought Brendon his first drum machine, and his next encounter with a bearded saint (of sorts: Anticon's founding member Sole) brought him into the Portland, Maine rap crew Live Poets. In 1998, Alias' love for beatmaking and the spoken word carried him across the continent along with $300 and a prayer from his folks. In Oakland, the Anticon art collective found its base of operations, and Alias found it impossible not to make artists of his own.

Rona 'Tarsier' Rapadas was born in the shadow of the movie studios. Culver City, California: home to Hollywood's erstwhile claim to fame. Her mother was an O.R. nurse and father a civil engineer, who knew the importance of a foundation of sound. First on a Lowry organ (complete with stock disco and tango beats) and later on a Sherman Clay upright. Rona played classical piano for the better part of a decade. She was an alto in her school choir-her low, raspy voice lining her up next to the boys-and in 7th grade she pleaded with her parents for a guitar, took lessons, and emerged with a handful of Jane's Addiction covers, six chords, and the fingerpicking sequence to 'Blackbird.' All of which is to say, Rona Rapadas loved music (especially the dreamy cinematic kind); she just hadn't quite figured out where it would take her. Years later it all came together. While studying audio production for film at San Francisco State, she was wooed by a man in a wolf mask triggering samples from a Kurzweill k2000. Burgess Tomlinson and Rona began playing together as the electronic duo, Healamonster & Tarsier, moved to Brooklyn, and started creating.

After concocting his heady rap opus (The Other Side of the Looking Glass) and providing the score for most of Sole's Selling Live Water, Alias found his own sound moving closer to the dreamy and cinematic. Keyboards replaced words and guitars edged out samples; the drum machine was constant. In October of 2003, he released his instrumental LP debut, entitled Muted, and on December 31, Alias got an excited email from Tarsier. The album hadn't left her side for a month-she'd been singing along with the melodies and writing lyrics for the wordless moodpieces and would he consider doing a remix with her and would he mind giving her group's stuff a listen? The song was Healamonster & Tarsier's "Vista"-from their Heart of a Blue Whale... EP -and Brendon was floored. He wrote back the next day and Tarsier's eyes went as wide as her namesake's. He was going to send her four beats to choose from, she'd add her vocals, and they'd see where they ended up. What Brendon got back sent him into a fit of rabid inspiration. He worked from 6am to 9pm and finished the song that very day. Back in Brooklyn, Rona had become convinced that her voice wasn't good enough and Brendon just didn't have the heart to tell her. Instead, he asked her to make an album. For nearly two years they lived like this-between anxiety and elation, communicating through music and the occasional email, their work as dotted lines with arrows at the end, streaking horizontally along latitude, across longitude, then collecting for one last shot back across the continent, and now-out at all angles like a flight path blown wide open. That two people who didn't even know how one another took their coffee (and probably still don't) have realized that rarified thing-a beautiful album-goes to the core of the Anticon ethos: honest music is without borders.