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For Andrew Bird, touring with a handful of over-sized gramophone speakers is nothing new, but at last night's show, he worked with artist Ian Schneller to create "a forest floor of horns" (Bird's words) in the impressive, multi-level rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum. The show was the second installment in a three-part series called Dark Sounds (Beirut was the first), which combines a live musical performance with an exhibition. Two hours before the show, the doors to the museum were thrown open, allowing people to mill around the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed space, chat, and peruse the art at their leisure. Underneath the soft din of people, the sound of crickets was piped in through the gramophones that covered wide swathes of the museum's floor.
A few minutes after ten, the crowd broke into a slow clap, and the dapperly dressed Andrew Bird emerged. Bird began to play his first song - a beautifully melancholy instrumental piece - on his violin without so much as a word to the audience, but he soon opened up. "Well, I've seen a few things, but I haven't seen this before. Hey everybody. Pleased to meet you. This is a show I've never done before." Apparently, Bird, Schneller, and the crew drove from Chicago early Thursday morning, and Bird's only time to practice with the blanket of gramophones was in the hours preceding the show.
Bird played a number of instrumental songs in addition to a few with vocals, each time carefully building up layers of violin, guitar, glockenspiel, vocals, and whistling. In between songs, he'd look up at the tiers of fans in the immense room. "I've just got to take a minute otherwise I won't remember what happened," he said a few songs into his performance. There was certainly a lot to take in. Far from being merely ornamental, the gramophones were all wired to project Andrew Bird's music in different directions. Apparently, Sonic Arboretum is something Schneller and Bird have been working on for quite some time, their goal being to create a visual landscape complete with 96 horns. It's not uncommon to hear music reverberate off walls - especially in such a cavernous space, but it was a nice treat to hear it coming from multiple angles without the sound being muddled. This is what you call surround sound.
Over the course of the show, Bird stopped and started a few songs over to ensure optimum sound quality. "Let me try that again," he'd say before scrapping the loops and starting over. "It got a little messy [...] I'll try a different approach."
When he had finished playing his single-song encore (after a few false starts), he surveyed the audience one last time, hopped over the low wall behind him, and escaped through the crowd, leaving a chorus of crickets chirping in his wake.
More pictures from the show below...