If nothing else, Canadian duo Quaternin deserve an award for best genre classification: guitarist Will Ballantyne describes their sound as “new instrumental music”. Personally, I’d place their musical traits somewhere in the realms of the avant-garde or jazz but to pigeonhole it would be to do the duo a disservice.
You can certainly hear elements of the band’s influences in Quaternin’s simultaneously minimalist, yet complex recordings. These range from Tony Williams’ work with Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock to Aphex Twin and Isis. Looking at this list, Will’s assertion that he and bandmate Ethan Lustig (drums, keyboards) take influence from everything they listen to is undeniably true.
In terms of guitarists, Will’s heroes offer perhaps the biggest departure from EDGG’s usual field of reference (hyperlinks ahoy!). Kevin Hufnagel of instrumental progressive metallers Dysrhythmia is Will’s biggest inspiration: “His guitar tone was so unique,” Will says. “He was different from all the other ‘metal’ guitarists I was hearing at the time.”
Other key players include Mick Barr (Krallice, Orthrelm, Crom-Tech) and The Durutti Column’s Vini Reilly. Of the latter, Will says, “He was one of the first guitarists I heard that wasn’t a jazz guitarist but had such stunning jazz-style technique. His playing is so crisp and clean even if he’s doing really fast runs or chord work.”
Quaternin – Rockeater
As with his music, Will has an unorthodox approach when it comes to guitars. “I’m weird when it comes to guitars,” he confesses. “I have a couple but don’t particularly love any of them. They’re tools.” Will thus uses Ibanez SQ and Artcore guitars, primarily because they’re great workhorses. He does show some affinity for his SQ however, as he’s fitted a Seymour Duncan Super Distortion in the bridge for a more biting, over-the-top sound.
This is where things get interesting. “I’m far more particular about amps than I am about guitars,” Will says. “Being in a two-person band it’s really difficult to sound as full as another band can with a guitarist, drums and a bassist.” To get around that problem, Will employs an innovative stereo setup.
The main amp is a 1967 Sunn Solarus (with original speakers!) but for the band’s recent recording session, Will used a Fender Bantam Bass that was modified with four 10-inch speakers instead. The other amp in Will’s stereo rig is a solid state Acoustic 150 head into a Mesa Boogie 2×12. His reasonings behind such contrasting amp rigs will be explained below…
With two amps to play with, Will also splits his pedalboard in two, half going to one head and half to the other. It all starts with a Bespeco volume pedal and Boss TU-2 before the split hits. Then the top chain goes into the Sunn and features a Singing Tree Super-Secret Booster (clean boost), Pro-Co Rat 2 and Ibanez DE7. The bottom chain goes into the Acoustic, with an Electro-Harmonix Ring Thing used for pitch-shifting the guitar signal down an octave and a Blackout Effectors Musket to fuzz things up.
Finally, both chains meet up with the Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai, before the chain is split once again between the two amps. This allows Will to get a thick distorted Rat sound from the Sunn and a grinding, overdrive bass tone from the Acoustic. It’s a method that is growing in popularity amongst the two-man band community and, should Quaternin work out the logistics of playing their frenetic material live, it’s something Canadian audiences will no doubt feel in full force.