Domingues & Kane Bring Viola Da Gamba Into The 21st Century

By Justyn Withay

On their new album, Amy Domingues and Dennis Kane combine electronics with the sounds of viola da gamba.
On their new album, Amy Domingues and Dennis Kane combine electronics with the sounds of viola da gamba. Courtesy Domingues & Kane

After many years in the D.C. rock scene, musicians Dennis Kane and Amy Domingues yearned for a new challenge. They got one — with help from a 15th century stringed instrument.

The two D.C. artists, who have played together since 2014, recently debuted their first collaborative album, Gut+Voltage: Viola da Gamba and Electronics in Synthesis. The hybrid acoustic/electronic effort brings the viola da gamba out of the Renaissance and Baroque eras, thanks to Domingues, an established cellist who received a Master’s in viola da gamba performance from Baltimore’s Peabody Institute.

Via email, Domingues writes that the viola da gamba, which boasts frets and more strings than a cello, “has a similar range but an incredible resonance.”

Resonance is the driving force behind Gut+Voltage, which Domingues recorded with Kane, a multi-instrumentalist and audio engineer who also plays in Soccer Team and Red Spells Red. Kane imbues Domingues’ elegant viola da gamba lines with layers of loops and echoes. The resulting sound is vast, but melodious and welcoming.

Domingues traces her fascination with the viola da gamba to the 1991 French historical drama, Tous les Matins du Monde.

“It was a film starring Gérard Depardieu as the 17th century French composer/viol player Marin Marais and his volatile relationship with his teacher and the idea of music as either worldly or for oneself,” Domingues writes. “The film featured some of the most beautiful music written for the viola da gamba, performed by Jordi Savall. It made a huge impression on me.”

Domingues and Kane set out to make an improvised record, which meant they had to become closely attuned to each other’s musical instincts. “I like to record everything and fish for the best bits and the happy accidents,” Kane emails.

“The writing was very organic — face to face, in the same room.”

The two musicians met through Kane’s former gig as a sound tech at D.C. venue Black Cat. Domingues, who is classically trained, has served as a go-to cellist in the local indie-rock scene since the ‘90s. She’s played with Fugazi, Dead Meadow and Mary Timony — among others — and led her own band, Garland of Hours.

But Gut+Voltage offered Domingues a chance to expand her repertoire.

“After spending about 20 years playing cello in bands,” Domingues writes, “I wanted to try something different.”

Domingues and Kane perform May 13 at noon at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in downtown D.C.