Bill Nace (left) and Haley Fohr Credit: Bill Nace photo by Ryan Collerd; Haley Fohr photo courtesy of Matador Records

For more than a decade, Chicago musician Haley Fohr, who also makes music as Circuit des Yeux, has been honing and expanding her craft. She’s taken her transcendent vocal explorations, art-rock ensembles, and live film scores to far-off places around the globe. Just when I thought I’d witnessed her lend her powerful four-octave voice to every possible incarnation, she turns up in a new project with Philadelphia-based visual artist and avant-garde guitarist Bill Nace. I was excited enough by their show announcement to write this preview for the Reader, and after I filed it, Fohr and Nace asked me to illustrate a flyer for them—an honor I couldn’t refuse.

Nace’s musical résumé includes an eclectic assortment of collaborators, including free-jazz titans Joe McPhee and Paul Flaherty, multi-instrumentalist Samara Lubelski, and pedal-steel guitarist Susan Alcorn. He’s also worked with both halves of the former Sonic Couple, Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, most recently with Gordon in fuzz-and-drone outfit Body/Head. That all makes him a natural foil for Fohr. “I think our duo specifically works due to our abilities within extended technique,” she says. “We both have a very unique and singular approach to our instrument. Our music is ecstatic and very push-pull, like a maniacal conversation in some coded alien language.” 

Fohr and Nace have performed together once before, during the 2022 Frequency Festival at Constellation. Curator Peter Margasak (a former Reader staff writer) asked them to join forces and headline the first night of the fest, and the result was total sonic combustion. This time they’ll play two nights at the Hungry Brain, and Nace says that during one set he’ll use an electrified taishōgoto (aka Nagoya harp), an instrument developed in Japan and widely adopted in East Africa that uses typewriter-like keys to change the pitch of its strings. Nace reliably coaxes unearthly sounds out of his guitar, so the possibilities for his taishōgoto playing are staggering.

Both performances will be recorded by local polymath Cooper Crain. He’s best known as a musician—his many projects have included hypno-rock outfits Cave and Bitchin Bajas and a duo with guitarist Bill MacKay—but he’s also an experienced studio engineer. He recorded Fohr’s 2021 LP, -io, as well as the two Drag City albums Nace has released since 2020, and the hope is that these Hungry Brain recordings will yield an album too. Fohr expects the crowd to be crucial to the final result. “Our music absolutely depends on energy, and much of that is up to the audience,” she says. “So the people who choose to attend these concerts not only control much of our efforts but will also be an invisible, integral piece of our first record.” That’s an extra reason to attend these special shows, which might just lift you into the cosmos.

Bill Nace & Haley Fohr Alison Chesley & Steve Marquett open. Fri 9/15, 9 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, $10, 21+

Bill Nace & Haley Fohr Nunn open. Sat 9/16, 9 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, $10, 21+