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Castanets' Jesse Ainslie



With Auxiliary House, Shapes and Sizes, The Physics of Meaning
Nightlight, Chapel Hill
Friday, March 9, 10 p.m.
Tickets: $6

  • Castanets

In 2001, Jesse Ainslie quit his Chapel Hill band, Straight No Chaser, and moved to Florida. Soon, he was in New York, studying creative writing and musicology at the New School University. In 2005, he quit that, too, citing his desire to study music on his own terms. Within a week, he was invited to play two sold-out shows at the Lower East Side's famed Bowery Ballroom with the Brooklyn band Castanets, opening for Sufjan Stevens.

"We all have a certain difficulty accepting our true desires," says Ainslie from his Brooklyn apartment, "but I was rewarded almost immediately after I did."

Ainslie had been drafted by Raymond Raposa, the captivating ringleader of Castanets, an oft-revolving collective of musicians improvising inside folk music contexts. The group—which ranges anywhere from one to nine players—melds rocking-chair blues and wild-eyed folk with undulated electronic hymns. Their arrangements, somehow distinct and amorphous, can be as claustrophobic as they are emancipating. They're lo-fi or hi-fi or whatever the night calls for, and in the past two years, Ainslie's been with them quite a few of those nights.

"It's not time-specific, and it's not geographically specific," he says. It's more of an entity than a band, he insists. He's been a Castanet for two month-long tours, countless Northeast gigs and four days in Amsterdam. "Ray calls me to play, and if I'm available, I play."

Castanets isn't sound or instrument-specific, either. Ainslie typically joins Raposa on guitar, but other usual suspects include banjo, trumpet, computers, tape machines, some sort of percussion and whatever else they find fitting. But that's all free to go. There is a singularity to each performance, Ainslie says, highlighted by constant improvisation. "With every set, we try to convey something that's not an exact truth," Ainslie says. "It's momentary. It's fleeting. Why should we repeat ourselves? It's all about the individuality of the experience."

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