Monday, May 6, 2013

A Lot of Sorrow

Yesterday I traveled to Long Island City to meet up with Lauren and go to MOMA PS 1 for the sole purpose of hearing The National play one song ("Sorrow") over and over again as part of an art installation by artist Ragnar Kjartansson called A Lot of Sorrow. According to the program description, the purpose of this installation:

For the original work Kjartansson sought out US rock band, The National, to perform their song, Sorrow, repeatedly in a six-hour live loop. By stretching a single pop song into a day-long tour de force the artist continues his explorations into the potential of repetitive performance to produce sculptural presence within sound.

I predicted we would make it to listening four times, at which point we'd get tired of the song and make our way to someplace nearby to eat and to day drink a bit. We did all of the above and had a really great time.

When I first read about this show last week, I shared it on my Facebook wall and, true to her form, Lauren said "I'm getting tickets." So often in my life I need someone to DO as opposed to TALK ABOUT and Lauren is often that person. When we arrived, the band had already started to play and, as with most things in NYC, we had to wait in line. This was no hardship since the day was spring perfection and you could hear the music from the sidewalk. As we stood in line it dawned on me that should one ever (for whatever bizarre reason) seek out a place with as little diversity as possible, one could simply attend anything having to do with indie rock. This isn't something I'm surprised at or bothered by, just an observation. I was there to spend time with my friend and some time with the National so this is just a classic digression. And by "classic digression" I really mean, ridiculous tangent. Moving on.

Upon entering the museum, there was a white dome tent set up in a courtyard between two sides of the museum building, which was a public school it its former life. We had to stand in a 2nd line to use the bathroom and then in a third line to enter the dome. I am still going to count all the times we heard the song while waiting in that line, despite the fact that we chatted to pass the time. (I'd put the final tally at around 14 times, since I'm including even background times.)

A strange thing happened in line when someone, at some point decided to move forward in a curvy snake formation and every single person in line followed suit. There were no barriers or ropes positioned that way but people just started to move that way anyway. We joked about how that would be a good psychological experiment for some white coated graduate students somewhere.

The strangeness continued when we finally got inside the white tent. The band was on a stage lit with an eerie white light and smoke which made them appear suspended in a kind of spatial limbo, floating through this fog of nowhere to nowhere, in sharp contrast to the bright sun we had just left. The band members were dressed in dark suits, funereal figures standing about, playing instruments. They were red faced, sweating and they looked tired already, just about one hour into a six hour set. It must have felt so bizarre to them, to be playing in front of an unmoving, mostly silent audience. At that point they had to have been playing by rote, going through the motions. It was, after all, the exact same song.

Floating to nowhere.
I noticed the trombone player last which seemed a little bit of an anomaly since I couldn't remember a trombone on the recorded version. It turns out, it was an unbelievably beautiful addition to the song. 

Standing there, I felt so odd. Like a voyeur, spying on these group of men, pouring their hearts out over and over again and just kind of part of this cold audience just observing and photographing.It seemed to me like they were almost trapped inside this dark nowhere trying to communicate something profound and meaningful through the song to a dark, cold room while people would come, gawk and go. It was a completely appropriate song for this living sculpture. There was also a touch of the absurd. Six hours of the same song? Also from the show's website:

the idea behind A Lot of Sorrow is devoid of irony, yet full of humor and emotion. It is another quest to find the comic in the tragic and vice versa.

I would have to say that this was definitely successful. The performance was all of those things. I admit to skepticism at first but I was moved and taken with this and I am very glad to have gone. In addition it reminded me of much I adore the National and I am going to try to get tickets to their upcoming concert in Brooklyn.

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