ONE OF ONLY TWO EXISTING PHOTOS OF BRISTLEBURR Owen O is on the left, Owen A is on the right.
It started with a sound that was almost impossibly small—a drip of late spring rain falling off the tip of a leaf onto the surface of another leaf below. Puh. Puh. Puh. Recorded on a smartphone by a young man in Port Townsend, this sound was uploaded to Pro Tools, where it was ratcheted up into a queasily powerful amplified beat—PUH! PUH! PUH!—then e-mailed to another young man, this one in Seattle, who fit the tiny-huge drip beat with a melody plucked on a one-of-a-kind stringed instrument featuring five gauges of wire strung across a hollowed-out television console. The young man in Port Townsend was Owen Astley, credited in liner notes as Owen A. The young man in Seattle was Owen Olmstead, credited as Owen O. (This is the first time Astley's and Olmstead's last names have appeared in print.) The music they made together—nature amplified by technology, overlaid with handmade melody—was something never quite heard before, and it served as the genesis for what would become the burgeoning musical genre known as fogtwang.
But before there was the identifying name—and the ongoing battle over what the identifying name does and does not "mean"—there was the music. Created by the two Owens under the moniker Bristleburr, the duo's initial compositions were deeply idiosyncratic collaborations executed almost entirely via e-mail, with Owen A sending his found-in-nature beats (from wind-whipped branches brushing a window to the syncopated lowing of Northwest alpacas) to Owen O for innovative string treatments created on everything from rubber-banded buckets to a classical guitar strung with yarn. These "orchestrated" tracks were then sent back to Owen A, who laid down his whispery vocals, with lyrics drawn from his poems and random notes.