Worlds collide

Bryce Dessner and Matthew Ritchie at MIT
By WILL SPITZ  |  February 3, 2009

090206_national_amin
Dessner (left) with the National

A week ago Wednesday and Thursday, a curious collection of young scruffy indie kids and older scruffy MIT eggheads converged on the school's Broad Institute for two nights of free music, art, and lecture dubbed "Darkness Visible" and arranged by MIT music professor and general eclectic-music-man-about-town Evan Ziporyn. The event's primary players were Bryce Dessner — best known as guitarist and songwriter for the Brooklyn band the National — and visual artist Matthew Ritchie.

Night one focused on Ritchie's recent outdoor sculpture The Morning Line, a structure embedded with dozens of speakers playing a "spatial work" composed by Dessner, performed by Ziporyn, and manipulated by British sound designer David Sheppard. On his Web site, Ritchie describes the installation as "an anti-pavilion, not an enclosure, but an opening of space, a conversion of place into language." Right. At the Broad (rhymes with "mode"), Ritchie did his best to elaborate by way of a PowerPoint presentation that zipped from heavy philosophical musings about time to Charlton Heston movies, from graphic interpretations of quantum mechanics to an explanation of Jackson Pollock's art. The highlight of the night came when Ziporyn played Propolis — a groaning, squeaking, honking, fluttering piece of music for live and pre-recorded bass clarinet (and named for the wax produced by bees to fill up crannies in the hive).

The following night was devoted to Dessner's music: less talk, more rock (or contemporary classical). Dessner was joined by his twin brother, fellow National member Aaron, for a trio of guitar pieces, and later by a string quartet of Ziporyn's students for a series of rhythmic and harmonic headscratchers apparently inspired by bluesman Blind Willie Johnson (coulda fooled me), and finally by a small orchestra of students for a piece called Bull Run, which sounded like Dessner's worlds of classical composition and the National colliding. After the final chord had sounded, a young woman in front of me said, "Let's have a drink!" Dessner, meanwhile, mingled with middle-aged couples and signed National CDs.

  Topics: Live Reviews , Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Charlton Heston, Sculpture,  More more >
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