Like a musical conjurer, Ben Vida coaxes a remarkable array of instruments to take on lives of their own and reveal their extraordinary songs.
For his third full-length record under the moniker Bird Show,Vida continues his obsession with an exotic assortment of music makers, layering berimbau (a Brazilian musical bow), Shona mbira (African thumb piano), congas, qraqeb (Moroccan hand cymbals) and more than a dozen other traditional instruments with Hammond organ, synthesizers and electric guitar to form a hypnotic sonic cascade that perfectly merges acoustic and electrified tones.
They kind of all speak to each other pretty naturally,Vida says. I think Ill pick up on whats unique and wonderful about a certain instrument that Ive collected thats from a different part of the world, and not try to emulate it with a synthesizer, but have it sort of sing me the song. And then what I add with electronic instruments, or with an acoustic guitar or Western instruments, is just speaking to what this instrument has already told me. His friend Josh Abrams first introduced him to recordings that focused on instruments from around the globe while they were bandmates in the now-defunct Chicago-based experimental quartet Town and Country.
I found the music mesmerizing, and also vaguely familiar in a way, but wonderfully alien. As I started to tune my ear to it, I could hear so much depth to it,Vida says. Ive found with a lot of the traditional music, and whether its ceremonial music or field recordings, that there was an interesting, what we call a minimalism quality to it, in its seeming repetitiveness.
After listening to an album of Javanese gamelan music, he became fascinated with the melodies, rhythms and improvisation of traditional music and began amassing a collection of international recordings and instruments. And in 2005, while still a member of the Town and Country,Vida started Bird Show as a solo project with a rotating cast of collaborators.
But though many of the recordings hes heard focus primarily on one instrument, typically played by a master, hes chosen to create overlaps that would never occur in traditional music, pairing a South American instrument with one from a South Africa, for instance. And his emphasis became a densely layered complete sound.
I love these instruments, but the reality of my relationship to them is that Im very much a novice and Im using them in the simplest way
and I end up combining them with other instruments,Vida says. Vidas approach to song craft for Bird Show has long been open ended, and he views it as an outlet for whatever appeals to his curiosity.
I play in groups and have collaborations with people,Vida says, referring to the indie rock band Singer and the freeform improv drone group DRMWPN, but the Bird Show project is just a place for whatever Im obsessed with in the moment.Therere no expectations with that project. I just love it because its almost like my sketchbook.
Since Vida recently moved from Chicago to Brooklyn, all of his instruments have been in storage for the most part. So for his upcoming live performance at Glasslands,Vida will unveil a new 30-minute composition in which he sings and plays synthesizer.Vidas currently fixated on the operas of Robert Ashley, a contemporary American composer who uses electronics in his work, and Vida has begun work on an opera of his own.Though hes spent the past five years accumulating international recordings and instruments,Vida has turned his attention to the synthesizer and to gathering short stories and poems for inclusion in the opera.This may seem like a departure, but hes long incorporated synthesizer into his work. I think therere more abstract elements in the Bird Show stuff, and sometimes therere more sing-songy elements, and all of that really will continue into the work I do on synthesizer. Instead of overdubbing six acoustic instruments, Im using a synthesizer, which in the end will not be such different sounds, in a way,Vida says. But then he laughs, and offers a caveat: Maybe itll be totally different. Im not sure. -- Bird Show Dec. 15, Glasslands, 289 Kent Ave. (at S. 2nd St.), Brooklyn, 718-599-1450; 9, $TBA. --