On Saturday night, an eclectic group of musicians joined indie pop musician Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn and composer/percussionist Susie Ibarra at the Upper West Side’s Merkin Concert Hall, as one of many performances organized by the Ecstatic Music Festival. It was clear from the start that the night was going to be an unusual one. The odd mix of instruments (a giant xylophone, some odd percussion tools, several violins) combined with the formal symphony hall setting and the diverse, young hipster to 75-year-old-couple crowd all set the scene for the hour of experimental music that was to come. The set was small and focused, with three original compositions by avant-garde percussionist Susie Ibarra, two 2009 tracks by Mirah, and—after a brief intermission—the premiere of a collaboration between the two women, We Float.
According to the program, Mirah and Ibarra were drawn together for this collaboration by their mutual fascination with space exploration, which was the thematic inspiration for the performance. This marks Mirah’s gradual turn towards more genre-defying music, in comparison to her older albums that take the form of collections of simple, elegant singer-songwriter tunes, boasting the “just a girl and her guitar” vibe. Ibarra, on the other hand, is more known for her interest in interdisciplinary work with immersive sound installations. Ibarra’s unusual and experimental composition and percussion sounds combined with Mirah’s ever-dreamy vocals made for an unconventional night of glowing, symphonic experimentation.
Mirah and Ibarra, accompanied by a male vocalist and a violin and viola player, as well as a percussionist and xylophone player, played a total of six songs, the longest and most fascinating being We Float. The piece manifested as an eerie retelling of the collected moments of a space exploration, with splices of atypical percussive sounds and techniques, some acapella harmonizing, and an overall dizzying, calming and meditational energy. Other songs incorporated even more experimental music-playing methods. At one point, Mirah was drumming on a stool, at another moment the xylophone player began swirling a wind stick around in the air while the other musicians calmly observed, and at other sections, both vocalists began frantically reciting poetry. This anything-goes vibe definitely defined the evening’s performance, the experimental sounds that comprised it and the unusual collaboration that inspired it.
Photos by Kate Gamble.