Deep Listening Band, Winter Garden, World Financial Center- 5/22
NYC ROLL-TOP: Deep Listening at the Winter Garden
"You'll never guess where I am," the guy behind us on the cell phone was
saying. "Yeah, I'm a block from the World Trade Center. Crazy, right?
... I'm gonna see this concert. ... I dunno, they improvise or something."
The Winter Garden atrium at the World Financial Center, across the street
from Ground Zero, is a mighty strange place to see a performance. Rippling
marble steps lead out into a high, glass-ceilinged room lined with fake palm
trees. Escalators lead up to balconies, and pathways from shopping malls
feed out onto the floor. Yet, there've been a spate of avant-garde
performances there recently — the excellent Alloy Orchestra played a short
residency there, performing scores to silent movies; the fall saw sound
installations by David Byrne and others. On May 22nd, Pauline Oliveros
brought her Deep Listening Band to the room.
Not all performances come with manifestoes, and fewer still can live up to
them. Oliveros' 15 year old band both have one and fulfill its program in
most dazzling ways. Reading her statement of purpose while sitting in an
uncomfortable folding chair, and watching after-work businessfolk drift in
from their meals at the adjoining food court, one might be highly suspicious
of phrases like "[deep listening] cultivates an appreciation of sounds on a
heightened level, expanding the potential and interaction with one's
environment [and] technology." But then one might see Oliveros – a 72 year
old woman with short gray hair – walk onstage in silver lamants, holding
her accordion, and checking the wires on her laptop.
A long stream of announcements boomed omnisciently from the PA — an
official sounding list of corporate sponsors of the free event, a request
for those present to turn off their cellphones. The Deep Listening Band – Oliveros, David Gamper, and Stuart Dempster – sat still. Even without the
chattering of phones and the shut-off escalators, the white noise of the
room was quite loud. Somewhere, water rushed from a fountain (either real or
piped in), voices echoed out from the hallways to the food court and
shopping malls. The musicians began to play, though – at first – it was a
bit tough to distinguish amidst the noise. Oliveros fingered her accordion,
and one listened for the results.
Gradually, they became discernible. Dempster blew on a variety of wind
instruments, including a trombone and a didgeridoo, droning in and around
the real/fake fountain. In addition to the three onstage, Dempster and
Gamper also had conch shells at their disposal. That combination of voices – electronic and acoustic – well defined the music the Deep Listening Band
built up into. As the trio layered more and more sounds into the mix,
setting loops and delays on their laptops, I became even more acutely
conscious of the sound of the room. The hum of the fountain was as steady a
voice as any, a nice common reference point for the ear to focus on. It
seemed as if the group was doing it, too.
It wouldn't be surprising. The essence of Oliveros' work with Deep Listening
has always drawn from the scenarios they have found themselves in. Their
albums, mostly ambient in nature, have been recorded in a host of resonant
spaces — a cathedral in New York City, a large cave, a two million gallon
cistern. In those environments, their notes decayed so slowly that they
could improvise with the room. At the World Financial Center, they did so in
a different way.
The sound echoed throughout the space. From somewhere in back, I heard a
rhythmic tapping. It took me a few moments to realize that it was the
businessman sitting behind me, playing a game on his phone, pressing down on
the supposedly muted buttons. Around me, I could hear people shifting and
settling in their chairs, the seats creaking and groaning like some relative
of the cricket. People turned the pages of their programs. The band
continued to build on top of this, mostly with success. In places, they
moved a little too easily into New Ageisms, Gamper in particular falling
prey to twinkling arpeggios on his piano. The trio rode the music up and
down, occasionally reminding people of the room's environment. The real
world never sounded so good.