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Joshua Abrams Aims to Make the Music in His Head

Photo: Charlie Gross

Joshua Abrams’s résumé is a virtual history of local music over the past three decades: house bassist at Fred Anderson’s storied (and now-shuttered) jazz venue Velvet Lounge, member of the experimental group Town and Country, and frequent player with the instrumental rock band Tortoise. But when Abrams, 45, formed Natural Information Society in 2010, he set out to “make music that I wasn’t hearing.” The group will perform at a record release show for its latest album, Mandatory Reality, on June 28 at Constellation.

How would you describe Natural Information Society?

Ecstatic minimalism.

What does that mean?

It offers the possibility for rigor, but also for elation.

Let’s reset. How would you describe it to someone not into experimental music?

Those descriptions are concise and accurate and still open to interpretation. Perhaps if I was talking to someone less music-focused, I’d say the performances are often meditative and also quite rhythmic, and as of late we focus on extended durations. We’ll play one piece for sometimes 90 minutes.

In this group, you play the guimbri, a Maghrebi instrument. What attracted you to it?

I’ve been an acoustic bass player for a long time, and there’s a lot of commonality there. But it has vocal and percussive aspects, too. It has a skin, like a drum, that you can strike.

What do you do if it needs to be repaired? Send it to Morocco?

They’re pretty strong, but it is a little terrifying traveling with it. One time when I was on tour, we got to Belgium, I opened up the case, and the guimbri was broken. But amazingly the festival found a luthier who works on all kinds of instruments. He figured out a way to fix it. Since then I’ve gotten a better case.

You scored Steve James’s documentaries The Interrupters and America to Me. How did you approach material that has social implications?

I don’t particularly like to overstate the emotion. And by that I mean I’d rather not tell the viewer what to think or what to feel. I always hope that the people who are courageous enough to share their story aren’t put off by the music. That would be the worst thing — if you share your life story and then you’re like, “But I can’t stand the music.”

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