Everything begins with a spark, whether in the fiery literal sense, or in the flash of creativity that spawns a lasting work of art. It’s entirely appropriate, then, that “Spark” is the first release by ABNA BON, a collaboration between two musicians—one Canadian, and one American—born out of a mutual desire to push their individual styles to their furthest limits.
In one sense, the fact that Bob Guido and Anna Donahoo met at all is a testament to the forward-thinking attitude at the heart of their partnership. In late 2013, Donahoo posted a bare-bones performance video made in her bedroom in Houston, Texas to an ambient music Facebook group that both belonged to. It was one of her early experiments with ambient sounds, after several years of playing with various Houston pop and rock acts. Guido, a southern Ontario-based writer/producer who had been working with veteran British producer Warne Livesey, found Donahoo’s video and immediately recognized a kindred soul, despite the geographical distance separating them.
After establishing communication, arrangements were made for a formal meeting in Houston in the spring of 2014. They found a room containing a grand piano, and with Donahoo playing her electric guitar through an assemblage of effects pedals, they composed the foundation of what would become “Spark” within 15 minutes. The song was later recorded back in Ontario with drummer Jonny Sauder and cellist Bruce Morritt. The final mix was handled by longtime Sigur Rós producer Ken Thomas, and mastered by Grammy Award-winning (Gotye) engineer William Bowden at his Tasmanian studio.
Now set for release on August 20, 2015, “Spark” is an intricate, yet thoroughly intoxicating piece that indeed comes across as the first indication of a potentially long and fruitful partnership. Although under three-and-a-half minutes, the song interweaves a treasure trove of melodic ideas, driven by ethereal guitar textures and Guido's violin, building to a heart-swelling crescendo of voices and percussion.
At its foundation, however, is the perfect balance between Guido’s mastery of the studio and Donahoo’s almost purely instinctual approach to composition. “I never had any intention of being an ‘ambient musician’ per se,” she says. “I was more interested in ambience as an aesthetic, whether it had to do with the music I was making or just listening to. Everything I do is always based around melody, and ambient music became incorporated into that as one part of a greater thing.”
For Guido, like many of his southern Ontario contemporaries, the ambient aesthetic is in some ways embedded in his musical DNA, based on the groundbreaking work Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno—along with “infinite guitar” inventor Michael Brook and composer Harold Budd—created in Lanois’ Hamilton, Ontario studio in the early 1980s. Using those recordings as a framework, Guido has carved out his own approach, both on his own and as a collaborator, the latter of which he tends to prefer.
“The exciting thing about those first few interactions Anna and I had together was sharing all of this music that excited us,” he says. “Neither of us liked everything the other presented, but we both appreciated all of it. I don’t think it’s ever a good idea when you’re collaborating with someone to be coming from exactly the same place musically. When two different worlds come together, you invariably get something greater out of it.”
Another aspect of the duo’s agenda is to try to avoid falling into the “serious” image that invariably gets attached to most composers. Although it may erase some of the project’s enigmatic qualities by revealing ABNA BON is simply an anagram of the pair’s first names, they hope to carry that on by releasing a behind-the-scenes video series that documents the making of their forthcoming album.
Guido explains, “We invited a videographer to be with us in the studio and try to capture us as we feel we truly are. We want to escape the solemn image that is often associated with artists who work in the way we do. Our hope is to create works that are inspired, dynamic and melodically captivating—free of any particular association. Obviously, we’re serious about what we’re doing musically, but outside of that we’re not overly serious people.”
For Donahoo, it’s definitely been a fun ride so far coming to Canada for the first time and embarking upon what is essentially a new chapter in her life. Most people can be excused for not associating Houston with ethereal cinematic or neo-classical music, but having connections on both sides of the border can only bode well for ABNA BON in the immediate future. “If anything, Houston’s known mostly for hip-hop, so it’s been really exciting for me to kind of get away from that scene and discover this wider musical world in Canada,” Donahoo says. “I really hope to spend a lot more time there and contribute what I can.” ABNA BON has lit the spark. Be prepared to alter your perception.