Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Guggenheim: Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller

So last week I packed up and drove to New York City to experience firsthand the Sonic Arboretum, the collaborative work of Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller at the Guggenheim.

I'm not going to repeat what is already out there in
reviews, video, and photos of the August 5th sold-out show (links below). There was no question I would attend -- Ian and I had discussed this concept not long after my last visit, and I was eager to witness this stage of its unfolding.

Nevermind that I had never been to New York City. I can tell you the 1357-mile trip was perfectly punctuated by a Pittsburgh visit with a dear college friend and her beautiful fami
ly. I can tell you how driving through downtown Manhattan in rush hour is similar to driving in Paris but with far less horn-blaring, vocalizing and tailgating. Miraculous was my unceremonious introduction to unspoken Harlem pedestrian rules, as was how I got away with many unintentional traffic violations. "You'll be all right," were the surviving words after a staredown outside the Harlem Flophouse and I never encountered another soul there for the remainder of my stay. Panicked re-parking attempts at 2 AM were worth the hassle; I would have loved to stay longer in the eerie quiet and safety of the gorgeous room I now miss.

Perfect was the Cozy Cole in the Harlem Flophouse,
though my first preference was the Corky Hale

I can tell you how to pay $45 to park your car
in the wrong garage that doesn't honor parking ticket museum validation, and anyone who knows me would instantly see the irony of my having shown fellow concert-goers how to drink. After briefly touring the art exhibit, I sincerely asked permission to hedge in on a prime viewing location and wound up flanked by the individuals who most frequently appear in the online photos of the event.

What I really want to tell you is that the sight of those transfixed in a backlit upward spiral of white, immersed in the sound of layered strings and ethereal voice emanating through 53 Victrola-type horn speakers, can make you cry.

Click here or on the YouTube logo to watch in HD

And that despite wanting to pick up the Guggenheim and its contents and nestle it in a more accessible, softer and cleaner environment, it was worth the insane life-bending efforts to be there, in that moment, as is.

Dazed and seeming not to care? Put down your reporter's pencil after having scrawled numerous inaccurate details and try this on.

Imagine you are solely
responsible for creating a soundscape of precise and focused layers -- neither background music nor a full-blown concert -- without having any time to fully experiment with the unusual amplification equipment arranged in three separate pod groups on the main floor.

Imagine 1400 pairs of eyes in above-and-below 360-degree rounds belonging to human sponges and reflectors that are inadvertently altering every-direction sonic projection. Imagine being surrounded by several instruments and at least twice as many effects and looping pedals, as well as by a few dozen photographers and videographers contorting over walls and each other for the perfect shot of your perpetual split-second situation assessments.

Imagine feeling a shift in the room as soon as you start to play -- while engulfed by your own sound you wonder if this space is truly vast enough to accommodate what is spilling from your mouth, your hands, your feet. Tonight is a night of constant adjustment in response to mood, acoustics, and expectations, and you will need to make this appear intentional, authentic, and seamless.

Quickly and efficiently decide where and on what your focus will be, and hold that focus while also allowing the sparkling spontaneous nature of your music to soulfully unfurl.

For almost two hours. Include new music. End with a planned piece and drastically alter it after re-reading the crowd and your own energy. Exit the only way possible by backing up and sliding over the wall behind you. Repeat.


There is a fine line between playing to the space / crowd and exposing what naturally rises up and out of each moment. Or, as with Andrew Bird, there is no line like this at all.

I can't wait to see what happens now.

Live Show Review: Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller's Sonic Arboretum, Guggenheim Rotunda, NYC
Andrew Bird, Ian Schneller & a whole bunch of horn speakers @ the Guggenheim
About Last Night: Andrew Bird at the Guggenheim
We Were There: Andrew Bird at the Guggenheim
Andrew Bird live at The Guggenheim as part of the museum's "Dark Sounds" series

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