Man, the people behind the Ecstatic Music Festival are sure doing this whole contemporary classical/indie pop/experimental cross pollination thing right. First of all, they’re successfully pairing some of the most forward-looking indie rock artists with some of the more sympathetic young classical composers; then they’re graciously sharing the well-recorded results with the public for free via WQXR. It’s like theIn the Fishtank series for a more classical set.
One of the more seemingly disparate but successful collaborations of this year’s festival is the pairing of Deerhoof with composer Marcos Balter and the Ensemble Dal Niente. It’s often easy to forget that Greg Saunier and John Dieterich of Deerhoof are classically trained performers/composers underneath the band’s rock-oriented arrangements, sugary melodies, and occasionally lo-fi attitude. Of course, this training is apparent in Deerhoof’s formal ingenuity and harmonic complexity, but they’re so good at integrating these complex gestures into the song format that it’s not always apparent upon a cursory listen. However, with this collaboration, the more classical/experimental nature of Deerhoof’s sound comes to the forefront. Part of this is due to the well-thought-out programming of the set. Balter’s opening work for soprano saxophone revels in noisy yet melodic extended technique that’s comparable to Deerhoof’s more skronk-filled tunes, and his second piece, the elegant art song Ear, Skin, and Bone Riddles, is similar to a standard Deerhoof tune with its near folky melodies and abstract arrangements.
Then comes Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier’s lengthy Deerhoof Chamber Variations, which successfully recontextualizes several of the band’s songs into a classical work. At first, it’s tempting to try and play “name that tune” with the piece, but after a while, the work becomes its own entity and takes on a near-Gershwin quality. Saunier’s orchestration of his band’s melodies serves to illustrate the hidden complexity of the group’s pop craft, and hearing Deerhoof play a set after this suite makes all of the individual parts jump in a whole new way. Balter’s closing work for Ensemble Dal Niente brings all of these elements together in a wholly successful way that manages to merge the idiosyncrasies of both ensemble’s instrumentation into a coherent explosion of textures.
You can stream the concert in its entirety below, courtesy of WQXR.