Friday, August 14, 2009

What is sophistication, anyway?

I just got back from seeing "The Animal Collective" live in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.  While this was my first time seeing the band perform, it was also my first introduction to their music, as well as this musical genre.

Wikipedia describes it as "freak folk" or "noise pop"—I think either will suffice.  The night's performance consisted of three guys: one stood behind some electronics with a headlight attached to his floppy head (it looked as though his skull was filled with sand and his neck made of cloth), another stood in a striped shirt and baseball cap hunched dramatically over a guitar or a percussion instrument while swaying evenly with the beat, and the third wore an enormously oversized white t-shirt and hummed long-winded notes while creating rhythms at the touch of a button.  The music defied norms.  With 20 min. crescendoes and endless repetition, it was two hours of sound—mostly unintelligible, and absolutely without end.

To be quite honest, it reminded me of the Teletubbies.

To those who've seen the show, perhaps you were as bothered as I was to constantly hear those space-aged, pot-bellied creatures exclaim, "Again, again!" after every single movement.  Tinky-winky picks up his frickin' man-purse and Lala's over there shouting: "Again, again!"  And he proceeds to go through these simple mechanics nearly a dozen times.  Personally, it made me want to stick my fingers in my eyes.  But little kids went absolutely bonkers every single time that damn motion got repeated.

It wasn't so dissimilar at the show tonight.

Lyrics, notes, rhythms... they're all repeated endlessly, and it seemed the crowd got even more excited the longer these sounds persisted.  I didn't want to seem square—I had just read about Stravinsky's opera, The Rite of Spring, and how on opening night its acrimonious melodies caused riots in the theatre because it sounded so unconventional (though really it was just 'progressive')—I wanted to interpret this music with an air of sophistication.  But, I found myself thinking the same thing I did when I saw the Teletubbies: "Oh my god, seriously?  Again?"  

It makes you wonder what sophistication truly means.  Is "The Animal Collective" really a genre-defying breakthrough, and am I just a square?  Or, does the music just tap into the same impulses that made us happy when we were children?  I don't know.  But, it's funny to think that maybe the only thing dividing the Teletubbies from "The Animal Collective" is the pungent smell of quality bud.

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