Last night, I went to a concert called Pop-Song Prolongations at Heaven Gallery, a space in Wicker Park that hosts a lot of new music concerts. I don't quiet know how to describe this show briefly, which is usually a good sign. My friend Eric had taken very short (20-30 seconds, maybe) sections of two pop songs and stretched them into very long, semi-formal compositions, interpreted by himself on solo piano and then by a septet of piano, vibraphone, violin, two flutes, and two saxes. The pieces--Silver Mt. Zion's Movie (Never Made) and Joanna Newsom's Peach, Plum, Pear--were completely unfamiliar to me. The point was to expose the textures and harmonies in a slower time frame that could lead to greater depth and appreciation, to really take the microscope to these tiny bits of much larger songs, and I think it was mostly successful and definitely interesting.
The Silver Mt. Zion song was prolonged using solo piano, prerecorded tape, and vocals, done by the pianist and arranger. I didn't have a good grasp on the original clip (even though he played it right before, I just have an ironically shitty head for melody), so it was more a listening exercise for me than an enlightening experience. That's not necessarily a criticism; I still enjoyed the interplay between piano and tape, and I liked the sparseness of the instrumentation, which echoed the original nicely. It was definitely an interesting and thought-provoking listening experience, I just don't know that I got what I was intended to out of it.
The Newsom, though... It was pretty sweet. The ensemble gradually swelled and receded during the performance, adding and then subtracting instruments slowly until, essentially, the last person felt like stopping. The melody and harmonic structure of the original song were easier for me to grasp and remember, and the instrumentation was so much lusher that it was easy to be entranced by the interplay between instruments. The thirty-second clip was stretched out to maybe thirty-five or forty minutes and I was absolutely not bored or removed from the experience, which is saying something. I'm somebody who gets lost in her head during slow movements of classical pieces, but last night I was unusually attentive. It was fun, like the classical-ish version of a jam band. The musicians actually had very little to go on (a sheet with some chords, a few words, instructions on when to start and stop (example: 2-4 minutes after the vibes start) and in at least some cases little-to-no prior knowledge of the piece), but I could see significant glances and sounds travelling around the room. The sax stuttered, the violin stuttered, the flute made a breath sound, and I smiled.
The concert ended with an awesome solo vibraphone piece by Philippe Hurel. It was so different from what came before, so rhythmically driven and precise, that it was the perfect contrast. Plus, I just really liked the piece itself, and Eric is a great musician and really gave the piece a good sense of structure and drive, which can be hard to do with unaccompanied things. It was a nicely rounded program, and a good way to spend a Friday night.