It was a perfect evening in downtown Los Angeles: unusually clear night, unusually beautiful skyline, unusually traffic-free, unusually cheap parking ($4? what!?) and, appropriately, one of the most unusual events to hit this jaded plastic city in quite some time.
All that was known beforehand was that Plaid and Tokyo's the Cornelius Group would be performing in “Man Machine in the Digital City,” the latest installment of Concrete Frequency, a Walt Disney Concert Hall series that “celebrates the symbiotic relationship between music and the urban environment; a multidisciplinary festival designed to examine and celebrate the elements that define a city and how those qualities are affected by, and reflected in, music and art.”
Plaid's Ed Handley and Andy Turner took their stations in front of their laptops and immediately dropped in with a strangely soothing ambient soundscape composed of tweaked blips and bleeps. But then the bass kicked in, and the psilocybin we didn't ingest began to take effect. All of a sudden we were immersed in a dirty, industrial, digital jungle replete with primal drums and purple arrows, wah bass on a blue laser bridge and static-y pings in a gold maze. A bit trippy, huh?
Whereas Plaid sequestered attendees within their industrial machine, the four members of the Cornelius Group gathered around their instruments and supersonically stocked effects pedals, keyboards, voice boxes, a weird violin/piano contraption, wind chimes and a plethora of gizmos and gadgets garnished with multicolored blinking lights, and took us outside of the machine for a breath of fresh air.
That was when the audience was treated to a different kind of aural and visual journey, from the serenity of the mountains to the chaos of a million moths and blabbing mouths. There were tons of bizarre images: a lollipop spinning on someone's tongue while a clip of Jimi Hendrix popped up with Japanese subtitles running across the bottom, pharaohs and graffiti, freeway tunnels running through grooving surge protectors, organic circuitry, pet people-rocks waltzing with cockroaches, dancing sugar cubes and a DNA strand unweaving with coins dropping from it. In a word? Freaky.
You see, it's like this: Although the music was ever-present, it took a while to get used to the idea that the focus was meant to lie elsewhere — particularly the lighting schemes and oversize screens that dotted the venue. Plaid and the Cornelius Group simply provided the ambience. The entertainment was created within everyone's own imagination, continually stimulated through the imagery and atmosphere present in a valley of ones and zeros aimed at overloading all known senses. Couple that with the Frank Gehry-designed venue constructed upon the math and science of acoustics so tightly distinct that a mouse fart would sound magical, and you get…well…rhythmic melodic punk bass pounding sensual Japanese lullabies, of course.
“Man Machine in the Digital City” was truly a unique event and an experiment that warranted and received not one, but two rousing standing ovations. Cornelius, Plaid and Concrete Frequency…you made a fan out of we.