Brian Mumford, Portland’s own connoisseur of neglected noise, began his solo project Dragging an Ox Through Water in 2003. Raised on old country and enamored by the work of sound-weaving bands before him, Mumford designed an elastic formula for his nameless genre of purist twang and insurmountable spontaneity.
Brian Mumford, Portland’s own connoisseur of neglected noise, began his solo project Dragging an Ox Through Water in 2003. Raised on old country and enamored by the work of sound-weaving bands before him, Mumford designed an elastic formula for his nameless genre of purist twang and insurmountable spontaneity. In a recent interview with the Vanguard, Mumford explains his musical influences.
“A lot of the noise bands that I was getting really into would have one person doing incredibly amplified sound,” Mumford says. “The thing about it is there are no rules at all. Sometimes it’s really dumb, and I mean that in a good way. It’s super not complicated, not cerebral, just really physical and dumb and visceral. It’s all over the board. [My music is] definitely folk music, and country. But then, unavoidably, there’s a lot of noise. It’s really inspired by some of the really good noise bands, people who are taking it really seriously. “
So how does one take noise seriously?
If Mumford’s methods are any indication, it requires careful appreciation of the pops, thuds and whistles around you, without disregard for their intrinsic ability to interact freely and with force. It demands analysis of the complimentary nature of sound, while believing that chaos can be firmly grounded in beauty. Mumford has based the character of his music on the ideals of such serendipitous combustion.
“There’s a really high value for me on maintaining a really strong space for chance. It’s important to me.”
Since its inception, Dragging an Ox Through Water has become a recognizable force in the Portland music community. In 2008, his work was honored as one of the top local acts by the Portland Mercury. Clearly this city is bathed in people craving a quality audible journey. He’s booked tours through Europe and the United States, providing each crowd of listeners with his unique interaction with the space and sounds around him.
Aware of the necessity of his presence in his work, Mumford takes full responsibility for each performance.
“I’ve played a few bigger shows that I really liked and a few that were pretty miserable,” he says. “It’s a big combination of factors. A lot of it is how well I can step up to the situation and inhabit my music.”
Despite having years of composing under his belt, Mumford remains awed by the evolution of each song and impressed by the paths his concepts will take if permitted. Luckily for his listeners, this path is often transparent, allowing them to follow alongside the artist, surprised and accepting of the unexpected.
In addition to being a cross section of the creative process, his work is inspired by the state of his surroundings.
“There are definitely a lot of political considerations, and moral and responsibility considerations, but it’s also super free-associative and I just have to trust that those associations are being made in an intuitive way. Then later [I will] more critically evaluate them.”
Notorious as he may be with his fan base, Mumford insists he is doing nothing extraordinary. He speaks of his music as if it were an extension of his self, protective and with humility.
“Even within the fixing process there is a ton of room for chance and error and artifact,” Mumford says. “I think I’m just using a lot of words to say exactly what anybody who does anything creative goes through. “
He goes on to speak about his appreciation for those people who forge a connection to his music.
“I don’t know if it’s about being an exception or being novel, but also I know people can only pay attention to so many things; I think it’s pretty great that people are devoting some of that attention to my thing. And I’m trying to make that worth their time.”
And those willing to devote such attention are rewarded with musical compilations painted with flecks of avant-garde instrumentation and warmly welcomed accidentals. Mumford’s work becomes reminiscent of oil paintings layered with color, and though one can sometimes see the broad strokes, even question their cohesion upon close inspection, they somehow combine to create a powerful whole worthy in every degree of close inspection.