Sunday, November 22, 2009

City Symphony and Symphony City

Yesterday I ran errands in Hollywood, dropping off an order for business cards, and picking up records and a wig.

Despite the pronouncements I have heard from those who would view Hollywood as LA's version of a revitalized Times Square (where'd all the prostitutes and drunks go?), I think it's still a remarkably scuzzy place for a tourist trap. At least lots of different types of people like to go there, making it more of a mish-mosh than most of segregated LA.

Once night fell I entered the Egyptian Theatre to see Sufjan Stevens' "The BQE," which turned out to be a triptych film in the city symphony genre (see all the movement and traffic! technology and humanity and architecture!). The soundtrack realized in full the leanings he has shown toward serial composition and classical a la Americana, kind of like a mashup of Philip Glass and Aaron Copeland. I liked the parts that sounded most tinkly, with bells and quiet arrangements, not the splashier crescendoes so much.

Most of the visual elements of the film consisted of shots of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Unfortunately the movie also featured some hipster hula hoop performers whose air of ironic detachment did not lend itself well to the screen. Awkward dance moves and shaggy legwarmers are best left to Burning Man, WTF Sufjan.

Then instead of staying to watch the other city symphony films being screened we left on a tip that Terry Riley would be playing at the Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown. Scooting over on the subway, we bought rush tickets for $10 and locked up our bikes on an unused rail.

While we waited to enter the in-progress performance, I realized that we would also be listening to the Kronos Quartet. Thrills!

Two and a half hours and many avant-garde compositions later (Matmos and some guitarist/composer were also featured), Terry Riley took the stage, white beard gleaming above a snow white blazer. His bald head loomed over the honey-toned organ on stage, and he led Kronos, Matmos, and the guitarist guy in a blues-y raga composition.

But then everyone else left the stage, and Terry Riley went over to the massive and ridiculous explosion of an organ that dominates the center of the concert hall. The technicians had made the lights that shine up the pipes magenta, so the old master played in the center of a diabolical ensemble over which he had total control, manipulating the keys and buttons and pedals of the organ at will. I'm not fancy enough to have a camera phone, but many people in the audience snapped pictures of the sight.

He played on and on, and eventually we had to escape from the spectacle in order to catch the Red Line home. What a strange vision!