Tomomi Kubo and Camila Nebbia – Polycephaly

11.29.22 by Ryan Masteller

One time college me was playing Radiohead’s “Kid A” at the record store and these eight graders were like, “Whoa… what is this? They’re making such crazy sounds!” 

I sniffed derisively like the jerk I truly was and said, “That’s Radiohead, and what you’re hearing is an Ondes Martenot, which the band is newly applying to their sound on this record. Olivier Messiaen used it in his compositions too. Now get the hell out of my store you little shits!” They ran like the wind and probably listened to Green Day in whoever’s mom’s car they came to the mall in.

I’m not gonna lie, Radiohead brought the Ondes Martenot to my attention, and I should have been nicer to those pesky little shits, but the past is the past, and Tomomi Kubo is the future – the future of the Ondes Martenot at least. Kubo and equally future-facing saxophonist Camila Nebbia here team up on “Polycephaly,” a fully improvised set of ingenious interplay that I can’t help but sitting here and listening to in wonder, fully taken by the grand statements and the delicate explorations, the ebb and flow of masterful collaboration by musicians at the top of their game. I’ve still got a bit of goggle-eyed little shit in me too, apparently.

“Polycephaly” is a condition of having two heads supported by a single torso, and this metaphor here is applied to the mind-meld undergone by Kubo and Nebbia during the recording process in 2021. The dynamic they create between two disparate instruments oddly coalesces into gleeful squiggles and joyful melodic conversations, a delight that can clearly only be accomplished when one person shares two heads (and also hands to help play the instruments). The pieces breathe, the sax runs dancing against the sparkling proto-electronics of the Ondes Martenot, sometimes vice versa as the Ondes blurts, bleats, or otherwise wavers upon Nebbia’s foundation, or sometimes even blank space. 

Listen close, too, and you’ll hear mouth sounds or jittery speech for a little extra flavor. 

So maybe I was wrong all those years ago to take out my insecurities on the less deserving. Maybe I should have been – heck, should be, in general – just a little bit nicer, encouraging people to discover new things for themselves, things that may even change the way they think about music or culture or even the world. At least I hope to encounter that benevolent sentiment, one of easy forgiveness and understanding, when I show up to Tripticks Tapes headquarters and demand to speak to whoever greenlit this awesome-ass tape. I’m really good at demanding stuff and getting my way.

Oh right, be nice! Gotta remember that.