The conversations that Mirabai Iwanko and Jacob Pitcher would have while they were working in the kitchen at Portland’s Bayside Bowl were far-ranging and illuminating. While customers bowled strikes and ate burritos, the pair bonded over long discussions about music, spirituality and art.
It was only natural that Iwanko, a vocalist and a recent graduate of the Maine College of Art, and Pitcher, a multi-instrumentalist who formerly played with Portland band Awaas, would decide to make music together. The resulting collaboration, the electronic duo Contrapposto, is an engaging yet challenging departure from the Portland indie rock norm. Contrapposto will perform their highly visual live show with A Severe Joy and Leveret on Saturday, Aug. 10 at the Space Gallery in Portland, and at the Picnic Festival on Aug. 25, also in Portland.
“The first time we played together, it just clicked,” said Iwanko, 23. “We just had so much in common. It was kind of amazing that it worked out that way.”
Iwanko is a Bangor native, and grew up in a highly creative family – two of her uncles played in the Boston-based early 80s indie band Human Sexual Response, and her parents and siblings were all singers. She wanted to sing as well, but was very shy about it.
“I would sit alone in my room and sing into a tape recorder. I didn’t want anybody to hear me. I was very private about it,” said Iwanko, who graduated from Bangor High School in 2008. “I had no experience other than that. When I moved to Portland I just started telling people I was a singer, and when I started playing with Jacob both my parents were like ‘Why haven’t you always been doing this?’ and I was like, ‘I have, you just didn’t know.’”
Iwanko’s family practices Siddah Yoga, a form of spiritual meditation that she still practices today. When Iwanko and Pitcher were getting to know each other in the bowling alley kitchen, they discovered that he also grew up practicing Siddah Yoga, while growing up on a long dirt road on his family’s biodynamic farm in the York County town of Lebanon.
“It was like, ‘How is this even possible?’” said Pitcher, 34. “Meditation informs our music in a huge way. We have a lot of different ideas and approaches.”
Contrapposto’s music resembles in some ways the music of iconoclastic electronic artists and groups like Bjork, the Knife, Purity Ring, Gary Numan or Portishead. Iwanko’s voice is a lithe, curious thing – it will veer from a straightforward, jazzy inflection to a disorienting growl or scream over the course of a song. The pair have released five singles on Soundcloud, with another one on the way in the coming weeks. When writing music, Iwanko will bring melodies and lyrics she’s created in her head, a cappella, and Pitcher will then create a soundscape around them.
“The melodies she comes up with are so unexpected and unique. It’s a welcome challenge, to create music around them that can still be accessible and danceable,” said Pitcher.
“I’d rather sound weird than sound pretty,” said Iwanko. “It’s so much more fun.”
In addition to the meditation both Iwanko and Pitcher practice, which keeps their minds and creative spirits limber and open, they both find inspiration in nature and the world around them. They call their music “zoomorphic,” which Iwanko explains as meaning that instead of “anthropomorphic,” in which animals are imbued with human attributes, the lyrics for Contrapposto imbue humans with animal attributes.
“I always look at certain things that people do and compare it to animal behavior. We live on instinct more than we realize,” she said. “I try to say those things in my art. Animals have taught me a lot of life lessons.”
The Contrapposto live show combines their music with performance art. They use projections and wear face paint and elaborate headdresses, drawing from influences ranging from artistic depictions of Hindu deities to science fiction. Iwanko tries to have a different look for each show.
“We hope that people are transported away from the day to day, when they listen to our music,” said Iwanko. “We hope we can all share that kind of experience.”