Antibodies, Sk Orchestra, Do Make Say Think, The Happiness project

On Saturday, I went a couple of very different performances in various neighborhoods of Brooklyn, ranging from poetry reading and performance art to experimental jazz and pop. At Central Booking in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn, I saw a performance by the Sk Orchestra, which uses Casio SK-1 sampling keyboards as their main instrument. The SK-1 is a very playable instrument for low-fi real-time sampling and lends itself well to live performance. On this evening, the orchestra was more of “chamber ensemble”, with two SK-1 performers plus a third performer playing an old-style hand-cranked telephone. The SK-1s were used for live sampling in a “call-and-response” style, with one player sampling a phrase in his own voice, and the other providing a sampled response. The back-and-forth of samples at different rates of attack and pitches got increasingly confrontational as the performance went on, even approaching “fake violence” as the players hid behind a screen from which screaming sounds could be heard.

The performance was actually part of a release party for the book Antibodies, a collaboration of the interdisciplinary artist and musician Brandstifter and the word-and-sound artist Dirk huelsTrunk. The art book was based on found text and images from German medical textbooks. The authors performed a live reading from the book, reading lines once in German, once in English and the sung in both languages simultaneously. The performances featured a wide variety of musical and theatrical styles, from popular to more subdued to noisy/avant garde.

At the Music Hall of Williamsburg, I saw a show featuring the Toronto-based band Do Make Say Think. Their music combined rock and pop with jazz and experimental elements, moving seamlessly from a driving rock rhythm to a rhythmless section of extended delay lines and analog-synthesizer drones to an acoustic chorale of trumpets and saxophone. They were able to blend the timbres of the core instruments (guitar, bass, drums, keyboard) with the large horn section and their rather impressive array of electronics – each performer appeared to have a large collection of dedicated pedals. The overall show had a lot of energy and seemed to move forwarded from one song to another without stopping (hence the joke towards the end of the set that they were “now going to play their second song), and resonated with the full but not claustrophobic audience.

Beforehand, a subset of Do Make Say Think performed as Happiness Project, an intriguing set based on recordings made by bassist and lead Charles Spearin of his neighbors. He was intrigued by the prosody of the spoken words, with their wide variety of intonations, rhythms and phrases, and created several musical pieces that followed five of the neighbors’ recordings. We heard an old Jamaican woman’s voice followed by closely by saxophone’ Spearin’s daughter’s complaints interpreted by a violin against a minor-key jam; a very moving speech by a woman who was deaf until the age of 30, and her melodic description of what is was like to hear for the first time; a rather amusing repeated phrase from a six-year old girl as funky brass hits against a latin rhythm; and a duo of a bass and the words of a old Caribbean man. I have certainly seen musical performances before that attempt to capture the pitches and rhythms of speech closely, though this project worked quite well, and was certainly memorable. And it gives me something to think about for future pieces…