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The Joshua Light Show

by Andreas Hager


Photo credit: Greg Kessler

This weekend, The Joshua Light Show appeared at NYU’s Skirball Center, with each evening pairing a different set of musicians. Friday evening featured two concerts, the first by minimalist composer Terry Riley and his son, guitarist Gyan Riley. Known as one of the founding fathers of minimalism, the elder Riley’s work in tonal exploration has led him in a multitude of cultural directions. Riffing on themes that spanned from baroque to jazz and from Eastern to alien, the duo improvised a mesmerizing journey through the abstract.

The light show tied the concert together, using a wide range of techniques to create images that delineated and reacted to the music. The colors were deeply saturated, far more visceral than any projections I’d seen before. The result was like a live remix of the opening sequence of Fantasia, and never felt like the digital mindlessness of the iTunes visualizer.

The evening's second concert featured Lou Reed, John Zorn, Bill Laswell, and Milford Graves. Their slow, casual entrance belied the onslaught of sound they were about to unleash; after a melancholy saxophone solo, the quartet sprang into action.

There were no old standards here–instead a series of wild and atonal riffs piling upon each other, a rowdy jam session by musicians that had earned their stripes. The light show provided clarity, illustrating the various musical strands and making them comprehensible. There were a few defectors, but most of the audience was spellbound.

The evening was an unusual mix of rock concert and classical recital. While Lou Reed received a few catcalls, in general the audience was coiffed and polite, listening with intent usually reserved for a thorny Schoenberg composition.

For the last set, the Rileys joined the quartet onstage, leading the group in a final improvisation. It was a New York moment to see Riley and Reed paired for a vocal duet. The Joshua Light show was anything but predictable, and most certainly unforgettable.