07 December 2010


Acts of creation combine the messy with the marvelous. It is too easy, and perhaps too common, to step back and observe a final product and say: Ah! Creativity. Creation. The Created. And I am a witness!

The Created that we perceive is actually the final moment in a process that involved conception, design, structuring, rehearsal, building, destroying, bleeding, and a multitude of other elements and efforts that often stay hidden behind their final faรงade. Some of the greatest works--and the greatest workers--overcome this. The evidence of their creative processes reveals itself. This is why people visit museums to see paintings and sculptures instead of simply looking them up on the internet--we love to see brushstrokes and chisel marks. It's why we attend readings by authors instead of merely staying at home with our books--we want to hear the text read in the author's voice and ask her questions about how it was written. It's why we attend concerts instead of just jacking in to our iPods.

The best concerts I've attended have made me feel as though I was witnessing Creation: Nickel Creek, The Swell Season, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, the Dave Brubeck Quartet. And last night, Andrew Bird.

Bird's performance was stunning and recalled to my mind these other concerts where I felt privileged to be a witness to something new and original and impossible to recreate. But there was something about it that made it seem different from other creative performances I've been to. I'm having a hard time explaining it--even to myself--but I think I've come up with a decent metaphor.

Watching and listening to The Swell Season was like arriving in time for the sunset on the Sixth Day. The majority of the work has been done. The lights in the firmament are in place, the waters and the dry land are divided, vegetation is growing and the animals are up and about. There's man, but he's alone. Aha--now he's not! Off they go into the garden!

So much of what we saw (and were allowed to participate in, bless Glen Hansard), was a unique act of creativity unrolling before us. But The Swell Season had a setlist and they'd rehearsed it in order. The lights were timed to cues that had been set weeks before and run through hours before the performance. The roadies knew when to bring out what instruments. The band knew when to take its breaks and let Glen and Marketa go on without them. The trial and error and most of the creative processes were past.

Being in attendance at Andrew Bird's Gezelligheid concert last night was like arriving midway through the Fourth Day as the seeds of future vegetation are being scattered before the wind. Some may take root immediately while others drift along to find more suitable soils. They're beginning to spring up to see what they'll be, to adapt for specialized pollination, to produce new perfumes and colors and shapes that a moment ago didn't exist.

Gezelligheid is a Dutch word, roughly translated as "coziness." Bird's work in his Gezelligheid concerts is to bring about an informal, conversational performance where he can relax and be a little more intimate (DC's Sixth & I Historic Synagogue was the perfect setting for this). After his opening number he decided to play a familiar song he loved because it helped him to relax. He played a lot of new songs being prepared for his next album. He performed an unfinished number that he said he'd probably never record. He shared a song with us that was written and recorded by The Handsome Family because it had inspired him long ago to reach for something higher in his lyric-writing ("'Delirious with pain, his bedroom walls began to glow and he felt himself soaring up through falling snow. And the sky was a woman's arms.' I can be better. I know I can be better"). Most of this was impromptu and decided as he went, sharing with us what he was thinking about at the moment and what his favorite tunes were right now. He wasn't afraid to improvise, even with the setlist.

And he wasn't afraid to make mistakes or to start over when he wanted to try something different or wanted it to sound better. He laughed at himself when he created a 28-second loop on his on-stage mixing board when the time limit is 26 seconds. He plucked and then replucked and then re-replucked intros and bass lines so that everything would be the best creative product possible. And he let us watch and listen! It was amazing to see and hear a master as he went through the processes of making something astoundingly beautiful and new. It was true Creation, the messy making it even more marvelous than it would have been otherwise.

Instead of using the house sound system, Bird set up about 20
speakers of various sizes and used Victrola horns as amplifiers.

These twin Victrola horns oscillated when Bird hit a pedal, creating a
repeating miniature Doppler effect on the background of certain songs.

This ample amplifier was just in front of where I was sitting. Every
time I looked at it the words "dinosaur Victrola" from Creedence
Clearwater Revival's "Lookin' Out My Back Door"popped into my head.


Christina said...

Long have I wanted to find the words to describe experiences like this and you just did it. Right there. Ahhhhhhh. Thank you for scratching the itch I couldn't reach. Ever since attending that same Swell Season concert, the need to describe the experience to someone else has been steadily burning at the back of my brain. And look at that. You just went and did it! The best I was ever able to do was explaining to people that the entire club was "vibing" together. That simply isn't sufficient. But comparing it to a particular stage in the creation of the world? Perfect.

There is something beautiful, quiet and reverent about being a part of any creative process, but especially one that unfolds before your eyes as a bit of a mystery and a surprise. Personally, I long to be the initial creator of such experiences, but if I can no more than attend and be part of the creative process of someone else's genius, then so be it.

ANJ said...

Love the Creation metaphor. Very jealous that I missed out on that concert. Was I at Swell Season with you? Also one of my favorite ever concert experiences.

ANJ said...

Also, my verification word for the last comment was SPLOGRA. Awesome.

Club Narwhal said...

i <3 andrew bird. i remember going to one of his concerts in salt lake (on a sunday--don't judge) and it was honestly like a spiritual experience. so jealous!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.