My generation is, largely, not a generation of instrumental music, nor of music that is experimental or progressive (at least certainly not in the mainstream). For the most part, my generation is a generation of dance-pop hooks and rap. My generation is a generation of lyric quoting, 3-4 minute song loving teeny boppers. And I have little room to criticize. While I may have not grown up in teeny bop fashion (I seriously swear to having no dark past involving boy bands – you can ask anyone from my childhood), I am just as much of a lyric-spouter as the next early 20-something. Now, I’m not daring to say that generations before us didn’t pay attention to lyrics, or that there are no underground bands playing progressive or experimental music, or any such thing. What I am saying is that generations before us saw more bands that played lengthier songs with more flashy and unconventional instrumentation that got popular. Go ahead and blame drugs if you want, but overall, I’d say that it’s made the market for instrumental music that much trickier.
Enter the Wordless Music Project, a project in collaboration with Lincoln Center (I think?), working to expand the minds of classical music lovers and indie music lovers alike (although, dare I say that young indie music lovers are probably the most likely of young listeners to already listen to classical music as well). The concept is simple: modern bands/artists playing classical-style music. Indie rock listeners are exposed to classical music, and classical music listeners are exposed to indie rock. Everyone wins!
Wednesday night, I had the good fortune of being invited to the second program in the series by a friend, without whom I would’ve never known anything about this project. On the bill was New Mexico’s A Hawk And A Hacksaw, Classical Pianist Steven Beck and Violinist/Whistler/Indie Rock 2005 hero Andrew Bird.
A Hawk and a Hacksaw played in a Mediterranean/Eastern, traditional folk and dance style that was absolutely charming. I had anticipated that this was them playing in a classical style, but after looking on their MySpace, found that this is their normal aesthetic, which is especially interesting to me, having been to the Mediterranean in June & July. Listening to their violin & accordion melodies resulted in the sudden urge to want to learn how to Polka. They seem to have friends in high places, as blogger & critic faves Beirut (I know the dude just canceled a ton of tours… maybe it was his band?) showed up at the end of their set to accompany them on a few songs…
A Hawk and a Hacksaw: “God Bless The Ottoman Empire” (download)
Classical Pianist Steven Beck played two pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, one titled “Partita No. 1 in B-flat major (BMV 825, 1726)” and another titled “Italian Concerto (BMV 971, 1735).” I tend to like my piano-oriented classical music to be a bit more melancholy (but not dark), and Bach is generally a little too perky for me, so to speak. However, the “Andante” movement of the “Italian Concerto” was absolutely heartbreaking. I’m working on finding a recording of it, and if/when I do, I’ll share it with all of you, perhaps along with some of my other favorite classical pieces…
Though much of his acclaim lies with his indie rock exposure via 2005’s Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs (reading the review on allmusic gives some nice insight into his back catalog), Bird is a classically trained violinist and a notoriously talented whistler. (Our friend Gavin at Rolling Stone.com wrote a nice piece on him for Chicago Centerstage that you can read here.) Before he launched into things, Bird mentioned that he was more excited for this show than any shows he had played in quite some time, and also mentioned that his parents flew in to town for the performance. Then, sock-footed and tie-donned Andrew Bird launched into a dizzyingly gorgeous stream of violin concertos.
First, he would play a few bars, then he would record and play them back in a loop, and play a different melody over the loop. He would occasionally accompany this with his seriously impressive whistling technique or a few notes on a xylophone.
It was interesting to hear Bird’s aesthetic when he wasn’t being constrained by a pop songwriting structure. As he closed his eyes and swayed his head back and forth while playing, one couldn’t help but get the sense that this was Andrew Bird at his most free.
I’m posting the song “Skin Is, My” here, not because it’s the best example of his playing style on Wednesday evening (or even the best example of his playing style on Mysterious Production…), but because it’s the song that got me interested in his music. In the summer of ’05, I copied the CD from a friend (don’t try and start with me over that) after hearing a bunch of people raving about it, but it didn’t really grab me until I heard “Skin Is, My.” I ended up keeping that song on my iPod & computer, but getting rid of the rest of the album. Then another friend gave me a copy of it in the spring of this year, and I listened to it again, this time paying more attention. It’s definitely been an exemplary case of an album that I fall in love with the more I listen to it. Each time I hear it, there’s another song that makes me think “how was I not more amazed by this the last 238453 times I heard it?” Seeing his show on Wednesday was yet another instance of this thought.
Andrew Bird: “Skin Is, My” (download)
The Wordless Music Project has two really great events coming up. Broken Social Scene and Do Make Say Think will be playing Wordless Music on January 24th, and Explosions In The Sky will be playing it on February 20th. I don’t think the Broken Social Scene/Do Make Say Think tickets have gone on sale yet, but the Explosions tickets went on sale just a few days ago, and the orchestra seating is already sold out. For more information and to buy tickets, visit wordlessmusic.org.