On the Boards
October 30, 2000
Surrounded by an electronic mountain range of turntables, consoles, synthesizers and tape players, DJ Spooky and Wayne Horvitz blasted 500-plus generation Xers with assorted sirens, space sounds, alarms, scratchings, samples, delays, loops and funky beats. What could be described as R2D2 on herbal ecstasy or two elephants making love to a men's glee club was, according to DJ Spooky, "a musical conversation" between himself and Horvitz. If true, then the conversation reached epic proportions, never ceasing, but endlessly throbbing, pulsing and flashing before our ears civilization's past, present and very electronic future. One assumes that this blizzard of sound, frightening and powerful, was in some way pleasing to the college-aged youths in attendance. For those who yearn for the extreme head trip - the louder, the sicker, the more messed up the better - Spooky and Horvitz were, as they say, "The Bomb."
Visually, not much happened. There was no light show, no pyrotechnics to compliment the sound explosions but simply two men on a floodlit stage. The well-dressed Horvitz, like a 1950s mad scientist hunched over his sonic experiments, worked feverishly at twisting knobs and pressing buttons while DJ Spooky, sporting a knit cap and headphones scratched and spun, occasionally handling a string bass and thumbing what looked like a Nintendo Gameboy. One musician hardly looked at the other, and it was almost impossible for this reviewer to tell who was making what bizarre noises. But, no matter. In the introductory words of DJ Spooky, "Welcome to the 21st Century!"
The point, if there is one in music, is this duo of intergalactic bubble plastic space captains created a dimension of sound akin to being sucked into a cavernous black hole. A combination of Rod Serling and Buzz Lightyear, they successfully navigated the abyss and were heartily applauded by all electronic footsoldiers in attendance, who, this morning, live to tell the harrowing tale. Yes, dude, that was one helluva trip.
Opening for DJ Spooky and Wayne Horvitz was the trio of Ellery Eskelin on tenor sax, Andrea Parkins on accordion and keyboards and Jim Black on drums. The group began with a flourish of energy that continued unabated for the next 90 minutes, performing original avant-garde compositions in addition to works by Thelonious Monk ("We See") and John Coltrane ("India"). As the band's melodic focus Eskelin proved capable at producing a myriad of Bird-like runs, squeaks, intervals and arpeggios. The saxophonist and bandleader left no doubt that he is technically proficient, highly creative and full of melodic ideas.
For her part, Parkins struggled with her keyboard programming duties, pressing the wrong button a couple of times and producing smirks from her band mates. The diminutive Parkins battled the amplified squeezebox strapped to her chest to a draw, but she was admirable in the fight. Ultimately, she produced the required cacophony of bass notes and let Eskelin and Black do the heavy lifting.
This they did, especially Black. A native of Seattle, the drummer was amazing in his ability, speed and finesse. All eyes focused on his crashing cymbals, windmill arms and laser-like drumsticks. Also obvious were Black's presence of mind, thoughtfulness, and dynamic range while interpreting each tune. From super loud to whisper soft, he coaxed a symphony from his orchestra of drums and cymbals as well as hand-held shakers, bells and assorted noisemakers.
In all the trio gave a fine performance of difficult, semi-scored, mostly improvisational music. Their set was a bit too long perhaps, but upon its conclusion bows were taken and the three received honest, extended applause for their efforts.