There are seven songs on Voices, the second disc from Fort Worth's Ohm, but you won't ever hear the band play one of them. They probably couldn't even if they wanted to, mainly because they never thought of them as songs in the first place. And, for that matter, the sprawling bits of jazz and dub that are separated by names and numbers on the track listing on the back of the disc aren't even "songs," at least not the kind that are written out and rehearsed before entering a studio or standing on a stage. They're just moments, some as short as four minutes, others nearing 20 -- bits of music that happened when the members of the band found the groove and locked into it together, not knowing or caring where it would take them next.
Ohm, together since 1995, never plays the same song twice -- never plays any songs at all, really. To them, it's all just music, not melodies and ideas that have to be confined to one particular place and time. Whether the members -- keyboard player Doug Ferguson, clarinetist Chris Forrest, and drummer Nathan Brown (multi-instrumentalist S. Forest Ward also played with the group until recently) -- are in the studio or on stage, they make it up as they go along, taking their music to the edge and not looking back. And judging by Voices, an eerie, almost uncomfortable disc, the method has paid off.
"When we play shows, we just improv everything," Ferguson says. "So when we record, we just kind of do the same thing, except we'll go back and do overdubs on top of it, and pick and choose the best stuff. The only time we've ever actually had songs that we'd play, when we first got together, we had a real loose song that we'd play. Then, after the first album came out, we started kind of doing one of the tracks from the album, but it's real loose, you know? It's not set."
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And lately, the band has been doing less of its improvising in public, confining it to the studio and practice space. Ohm used to play out all the time, but over the last few years, that schedule has dwindled to a few times a year. It's a pace Ferguson is comfortable with, allowing time for other projects while not giving the group much chance to repeat itself.
"We all do other stuff," Ferguson says. "I'm in some other bands. Both Nathan and Chris are in other bands. That's part of it. And part of it is, I think we've played around enough where people know who we are and stuff. So, we can get by with playing every couple months or so. We don't have to prove ourselves as much."
But, not surprisingly, Ohm is best appreciated in a live setting, where there is little separating the whole thing from falling apart. Ferguson says the group plans to eventually release a disc of live material, though he adds that almost any recording of the band is essentially a live performance. Still, he admits, the group's studio work doesn't offer the real freedom of simply plugging in and waiting to find out what happens.
"We do record lots of live shows," he says. "We've recorded a good chunk of our live shows. And actually, we've been talking to this guy in Italy who wants to start a record label, and he wants to do a live CD. We definitely would love to do that, because it represents another side of Ohm, you know? The live shows are more what we are."