Dirty Projectors / TV on the Radio

The Dirty Projectors are an indie outfit from NYC. I saw them perform a couple of weeks ago as an opening act for TVOTR in Toronto and although I was skeptical at first I think they fully managed to live up to their prestigious following act. TVOTR is exceptionally tight - talented musicians (technicians?) wafting a full-bodied wave of sonorous delight over (and sometimes at) their audience. I was tremendously impressed the last time that I saw them play in Toronto, a couple of years ago now, but if anything I think they've improved their act since then. They just keep getting better and better, perfecting their art.
There is a reason why I was tempted to write 'technicians' above and it is illustrated by the fact that when TVOTR is playing live, one of their premier song-writers, Sitek, stands quirkily at the back, not doing very much. Despite being seemingly an inspired musical thinker, he stands in the background during the performance, not unlike a technician. The front man, Adebimpe, who has amazing stage presence, spends a lot of his time on stage twiddling mysterious (to me) dials while singing. There is something evidently technological about their music, even when they're performing live, although more so on their albums. Their albums are so clearly 'produced', ie. mediated a million times over in the production of the final reproduceble information packet that contains the song, that the fact that they are able to produce such a solid and affecting live show is really admirable. But I also think it is really interesting how the model of making music which treats the listener as an end-user seems to seriously effect their mode of playing. Sitek for instance strums madly away at his guitar not like a virtuoso musician but to produce an 'effect' an industrial-sounding, machinic effect.
I find this relation between production and music so curious and I find it especially interesting when the process of producing information packets (that in some way 'contain' songs or at the very least can be said to 'make' songs when fed through a particular machine) seems to effect the characteristics of music and in turn effect our aesthetic appreciation of music. And then there are tonnes of examples of music that is almost entirely 'produced', with, somewhere at the heart of the operation (maybe in the sub-coccal region?) a human 'musician' (as different from a technician). Obviously the various breeds of electronic music operate in this way. I think of Britney Spears in this way too, a vocalist whose voice has been so mediated by machines that it can barely be said to be her voice, surrounded by a sea of electronic noises, no doubt some of which have at their origin some sort of traditional instrument, but many of which don't. Brittany has become something of a musical cyborg, her musical self transformed by and suspended in musical machinery.Britney Spears as Cyborg, don't worry it only took 2 minutes
The Dirty Projectors, at least in performance, stood out in direct contrast to this: a swarm of musicians making synchopated, often atonal music, stained, unusual music that from one moment to the next can change in intensity and pace and even genre. Occasional moments of 1970s rock erupts in their music, unexpected imitations of electronic sounds, hip hop and soul slide in and out again. Their harmonies were beautiful . . . and often weird. And it is in this weirdness, this ocassional ugliness that they seem to prove their humanity, like a modern version of the woven rug with the intentional flaw, like a sonic Turin test. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that only a human could make or enjoy this music.
I used to have this idea that the rock band structure was similar to Jung's model of the psyche - the persona, the masked face, up front, the conscious guitarist, the unconscious bassist and the conjurer of the collective pounding away on the drums in the back. This model has dissolved and so has the structure of the rock band it seems. For the DP at least, the persona (although still there) melts back into the swarm, playing his strange guitar riffs while letting others take over the primary 'melody'. This is of course a minor version of the rock-band-as-swarm phenomenon. Better examples are bands like the Arcade Fire and Architecture in Helsinki with their small battalions of musicians or canonical examples like God Speed You Black Emperor who used to get 18 people up on stage at one time, or such collaborative acts as The Band. No, band-as-swarm is not new, but it does seem like collectivity is growing in popularity amongst today's bands.
And something else seems evident too. The B-A-S is often accompanied by an attitude like that of the DP - stubbornly human, standing defiantly against CyborgBritney and her friends, an attitude that treasures the collective spontaneity of the musician over the lonely wizardry of the technician.