William Shakespeare once wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” But Shakespeare was an idiot who never took a single cognitive linguistics course, so what does he know about names? Hey Billy, ever hear of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? Yeah, I didn’t think so. It turns out names are very important, and obviously bands are important, so that makes band names extremely important. In this week’s edition of “Hello My Name Is,” we’ve got band name stories from ambient classical ensemble Bing & Ruth, cutest-band-ever Wye Oak, and electronic texturalist Eluvium.
Bing & Ruth
What do you get if you mix a healthy dose of Steve Reich-style minimalism with a Romantic Era sense of visceral emotion? You might just get Brooklyn’s very own Bing & Ruth, a unique ensemble led by composer David Moore. Since 2006, Bing & Ruth have been mesmerizing audiences with Mr. Moore’s gorgeously looping creations, turning short melodic phrases into beautiful layers of piano, clarinet, cello, bass, and voice, among others. Yet not a single band member is named Bing or Ruth, and there are certainly more than two people in the group. What’s with the misleading name? David explains:
“The name Bing and Ruth, specifically, comes from two characters in a short story by Amy Hempel called ‘Daylight Come.’ The characters are an older couple, newlyweds, that were ‘widow and widower first.’ Amy Hempel was a huge inspiration for many of the early pieces of the group, and it seemed only right to honor her contribution. I’m also fascinated by the idea that one can listen to a song or read a story – as it is with ‘Daylight Come’ – and walk away with a new interpretation or new feeling every time. Work that interests me most, and that I strive to create, are things that acts like a mirror, giving back something different every time you look into it. I’ve read that story at least 200 times and every single time it means something different. To create work that dense and layered, it’s like my holy grail. I don’t know if I’ve gotten there yet, but I’m having fun trying. Also I thought the name would be a fun way to fuck with people early on that were expecting two people on stage and show up to see ten. We’re a big band.”
In the beginning, there was nothing. Then Baltimore looked out over the land and said, “Let there be awesome boy/girl duos.” And so Beach House was formed, and played hazy dreamy pop, and Baltimore saw that it was good. But then Baltimore was like, “Why stop there?” And so Wye Oak was formed, and played lush indie rock, and Baltimore saw that it was good, and totally rocked out. And then Baltimore rested and ate a lot of crab cakes and watched John Waters movies until 3 in the morning. And it was awesome.
But what’s a Wye Oak? Well, to begin with, Wye Oak weren’t always Wye Oak. Originally named Monarch, the band (consisting of Jenn Wasner on guitar and Andy Stack on drums/keyboard) eventually realized that 500 million other bands had the name Monarch, and so they decided a change was in order. After consulting the gods and making numerous animal sacrifices, they settled on “Wye Oak.” The name is a reference to Maryland’s famous Wye Oak, the honorary state tree and largest white oak in the US. Sadly, the Wye Oak was destroyed in a severe thunderstorm back in June 2002. Yet its memory lives on through the music of Andy and Jenn, which I’m sure the Wye Oak would have enjoyed, had it been capable of conscious awareness and auditory processing. Too bad it didn’t learn anything from the Giving Tree.
Working under the name Eluvium, Matthew Cooper crafts intricately textured ambient compositions, weaving layers of electronic and acoustic sounds together in a seamless fashion. He also released an album of solo piano compositions, entitled An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death. His music is immersive and highly evocative, rich with emotion and often cinematic in scope. But where’d the name Eluvium come from? Matthew explains:
“The story of Eluvium’s name choosing is a rather simple one. The day that I needed to turn in a ‘band’ name, I opened and closed a dictionary and blindly pointed at random. I can’t remember what the first two tries were, but I’m quite sure they were rather dull and one dimensional. On the third try I hit ‘eluvium.’ The definition in this particular edition read ‘the debris from rock.’ It seemed charming enough, and I couldn’t help but find meaning outside the intention of its use. It seemed suitable to me at the time, and thus the name was kept.”