Monday, December 18, 2006

NY travel journals - December, part 2

Friday, I took the time to actually play tourist, although once again in a non-standard fashion: I convinced a hostelmate to trek with me up to the Bronx to explore the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Tropicalia exhibit they have running. I’ve been on a Brazil kick of late, but have been interested in the history and culture since high school. The tropicalia period coincides with Brazil’s rule by military regime in the late 60s and early 70s, and a lot of the work displayed this undertone of political commentary: partially due to the forced censorship, artists had to go over the heads of the government officials, but it’s this subtlety that gives the art its dimension. There was very little way in the way of traditional painting – many pieces were more involved with structure, the juxtaposition of media, and interactivity. The most intriguing piece was called Eden, a walkthrough installation with different compartments and rooms with wildly varying sensory experiences, from the dull to the completely deprived, with two caged parrots greeting you at the entry. Truly amazing in its scope. There was also a work involving porcelain bowls with coloured liquids the intrepid visitor was invited to taste. (I didn’t taste – there were no eyedroppers to use as per gallery instructions, and that’s a level of interactivity I don’t exactly desire).

I later indulged in two sets at Tonic. First up were Susie Ibarra and Roberto Rodriguez – collectively Electric Kulintang. The set opened with a video of Susie and Roberto’s travels to the Philippines, and their exploration of Filipino culture and the role of music within it. I’m always fascinated and humbled by the value of music in so many traditional cultures. There was a scene of a family ritual, with members young and old playing various sizes of Filipino percussion and gongs, and the sense of unity and celebration that it brought to the family was astounding. There was also a small children’s choir in a Filipino church that were wonderfully talented and emotive.

At the conclusion of the film, Susie sat behind a glittering pink drum kit, and Roberto sat on his cajon and manned the laptop. Over the course of the set, Susie would move from kit to kulintang (the traditional set of Filipino gongs) and keyboards/vocals, and Roberto would run from the cajon back to the kit. The juxtaposition of drumming styles defined their roles in the group, more generally: Susie the colourist, with immaculate touch and delicacy, but not afraid to cut loose when needed; Roberto the groover with a similar ear for nuance. The music was drawn from their new record, Dialects, and merged the traditional music they discovered with electronic flourishes. I’d never heard Roberto play kit before, but his Bonham-esque breaks made total sense to me knowing his postizo drum style; nor had I heard Susie sing before, and she has a very fragile, delicate voice (as she does when speaking).

The second set was Droid, a band I’ve heard of through ye olde MySpace. The only player whose rep I knew beforehand was keyboardist Adam Holzman, and it was a treat to see and hear him. It was kind of surprising that the keyboardist in a live-tronica band would be the one with the least amount of gear. Jordan McLean had a regular trumpet, pocket trumpet, and some weird trumpet-with-French-horn-valve-system hybrid, as well as an arsenal of pedals; Kyoshi Matsuyama had a cabinet taller than he; and ringleader/drummer Amir Ziv had a startling array of cymbals and cowbells, including a large garbage can lid converted to a ride.

It took me a while to figure out what they were going for, and to hear what the concept of the band was. I felt at times that the soundscapes Holzman and McLean created were separated from each other and conflicting, while it seemed to take a while for Matsuyama and Ziv to lock in. There were moments of development, and then when Holzman decided to unleash, Jan Hammer style, on his Moog Voyager, everything else seemed to gel for the rest of the set. I understand the desire to not groove outright for an hour, and to take listeners on a journey via subversion, but I think they could have been more effective. The other problem was sound, not in the house but on stage – they had a very brief and limited soundcheck, which is never a good idea with that amount of gear and processing.

Last night was (as titled by Joshua Sneider) the Pulse Hanukkah Slam. After once again walking the wrong damn way out of the Lower East Side subway, I made my way to the hallowed Poetry Club. It was great to be able to actually hear the music of BMI alums, as I always miss their bands otherwise (a tradition that seems to continue into 2007). All the pieces were strong and utilized the unique instrumentation to its fullest. I was surprised that, armed with a digital multifx pedal, Pete McCann got as warm a tone as he had last night. I finally had a chance to hear the acclaimed John McNeil, whose vulnerable tone imbued everything with melancholy. In one piece (can’t remember whose, sorry – maybe Joe’s) he was demanded to play a triumphant, very trumpet-y part, and he executed it well – the triumph wasn’t just musical but also physical as well, it seemed. The lighting in BPC made it difficult to see the details of many of the photos, and the mix wasn’t especially kind to the strings or reed doubles.

And on a tangentially-NYC-related note, RIP Ahmet Ertegun. Andy's got a short and sweet eulogy.

1 comment:

dja said...

Hey David,

Thanks for coming, and thanks for the great writeup!

I hear you on the projections -- all we knew was that the BPC had a house projector. We had no idea it would suck so bad. We had also originally intended on mic-ing everyone, not just the strings (which actually worked out very well when we did this music at Galapagos), but there just wasn't enough setup time to make that work. Anyway, technical glitches aside, glad you enjoyed the music.