Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Bandshell, one of New York’s best outdoor venues, is a summer institution. It was only a matter of time before the ever-expanding Wordless Music series came, saw and conquered this historic venue. And the weapons of that conquest on Friday night were San Francisco’s spastic noise-makers Deerhoof and local electro-acoustic chamber orchestra the Metropolis Ensemble. The latter played an arrangement/recomposition of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring called The Rite: Remixed and scored for electronics, brass and percussion.
The composers Ryan Francis, Leo Leite and Ricardo Romaniero were commissioned by Wordless Music and the Metropolis Ensemble to create this “remix” of Stravinsky’s famous riot-causing masterpiece. While no one in the audience got up and threw their seats at the performers, there were many surprises in the work. The composers kept Stravinsky’s rhythmic intensity and grand brass modal melodies, but they also added new layers of clips, fuzz and other sorts of keyboard and electronics-generated texture. They transformed Stravinsky into an architect of noise, which arguably he always was and remains. It was an exciting piece, and it showed the possibilities of reworking classics with present-day sensibilities and capabilities.
Deerhoof is probably one of the few bands out there able to hold their own against Stravinsky. Noise architects to the highest degree, they go further toward a real deconstruction (not a word to be used lightly) of rock than any other band playing today. Live, every band member seems to be an instrumental acrobat. Greg Saunier’s stripped down three piece drum set produces more sound than you can imagine. At one point in the evening, he lost his drumstick and continued to play with his hand—and racket continued to happen. Satomi Matsuzaki’s singing is bird-like and impossible to pin down. Guitarists John Dietrich and Ed Rodriguez use every single corner of their guitars to produce sounds just as wide: jabbing spikes, simple chords, tonal melodies, atonal fits, feedback and more.
There’s no getting around the fact that Deerhoof is, as a friend of mine once told me, a “spastic jam band,” but the freedom and intensity of their “jamming” is unmatched. Given pop-song structure and improvisation seep in and out of each other. Songs move from old-fashioned blues rock riffage to straight-up punk propulsiveness to serious atonal developments (but without any sense of flabby “jazziness”). Despite all this, the band never seemed self-indulgent or pompous on Friday night, and the good time they were having (Matsuzaki, a crowd favorite, would jump and whirl all over the stage) made the good time we were having even better.
The music of Deerhoof nicely expresses the hundred year trajectory covered from Stravinsky’s brash piece to the present day. Our contemporary ears are very different from those of the people that rioted at the premiere of The Rite of Spring—we howled with ecstasy at every moment of Deerhoof-ian feedback drone—but only because of the changes wrought in part by that earlier music. The ghost of Stravinsky lived in two ways on Friday: through his old piece closely reworked and opened up to the new sounds of an electronically-expanded chamber orchestra and through the rhythms, textures and surprises of a much smaller, more “free form” chamber group. Both of these reactions are, I think, indications of the next hundred years.
P.s. Check Out NPR’s audio archive (available Monday, July 21st) to hear a recording of Friday’s show
Pictures courtesy of Chris Owyoung.