Navigator Communicator: Sonic Sounds

By: Andrew Nickerson

If you are familiar with Ship to Ship or Todos Somos Lee then you are likely already aware of the new instrumental project, NavigatorCommunicator, which is comprised of Christopher Scherer (bass/keys/loops) and Peter Hilleary (drums).  To those uninitiated, Ship to Ship has been creating interesting technical compositions for seven-to-eight years with bassist Scherer and drummer Shea Hagan dividing up synthesizer and looping duties. Todos Somos Lee was the “math rock” project of Hilleary, Josh Kiener, and Daniel Rude, who emphasized darker tones in their finger-tapping guitar riffs. These two bands went on tour with their “murder jazz” peers, Falling Up Stairs, in the Fall of 2011, where they all became good friends and formed a local “mini-scene” of instrumental musicians (Rooftops and Pan Pan also come to mind with this group).


Todos Somos Lee has since vanished from the stage and Ship to Ship plays sporadically, though there have been brief appearances made by Hilleary and Kiener in their project with Wendelin Wohlgemuth and Drew Fitchette of Rooftops, which is best known as Squints Palledorous.  It’s this gap between projects, and mercy that their busy life schedules have temporarily granted them, that allowed Scherer and Hilleary to start NavigatorCommunicator six months ago.


In NavigatorCommunicator you will find many of the traits of their other acts: layers of loops, emphasis on rhythms, and repeated phrases.  However, the duo mutates away from their pedigree with grand, cohesive song structure, as opposed to Todos’ riff based songs, with what Hilleary describes as “straight ahead drumming,” and a bit more edge and weight than Ship to Ship’s lofty, major-keyed epics.  Scherer has become a master of the loop and will often have a bass lick and two synth sections on rotation supporting his high-fretted/keyed melodies, while Hilleary’s solid drumming flourishes and dances in the rhythm garden.  But even as they rely on loops they express a desire to break away from the cage this popular technology can create.


“We try to use the unexpected, and try to make it more relaxed and free-form feeling while keeping the electronic element,” explained Scherer.


Bands such as this inevitably get compared (usually unfairly or by unfounded opinion) to the revered Don Caballero who blended prog, metal, and noise in the early 1990s and helped make way for alternative instrumental music.  NavigatorCommunicator brings on this comparison sheerly for being an instrumental band, and they cite acts like Apparat, Do Make Say Think, The Notwist, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and The Shipping News as more direct influences and inspiration for their sound.  When it comes to writing they use recordings to help arrange their songs, whether in their make-shift studio at Scherer’s business, North Wave Electrical, or on the fly with the help of a cell phone.  Hilleary, especially, is driven to recording by his school work at Bellingham Technical College and dreams of one day owning a studio with a control room shaped like an airplane cockpit.


The duo plans to start recording an EP at the end of March, but in the meantime you can catch them when they play at The Redlight on April 19.