The fourth edition of the Ecstatic Music Festival got underway in earnest last week with a pair of shows that featured unique collaborations between musicians from both the indie and new music worlds. On Wednesday night at the Kaufman Center, Lesley Flanigan opened with a performance of Amplifications, which she's been developing for the past several years using a pair of handmade speakers, a microphone, and her own voice. Despite being visibly pregnant with her first child, Lesley knelt low over the speakers, creating deliberate feedback that seemed to come from everywhere at once, blending the dissonant churn with the sweet cooning of her own voice.
Following her solo set, Lesley was joined onstage by the Brooklyn-based indie band People Get Ready, whose unique movement-based performance is rooted in lead singer Steven Reker's background as a dancer for David Byrne and Miranda July, among others. Together with bandmates Jen Goma (A Sunny Day in Glasgow) and Luke Fasano (ex-Yeasayer), Reker and Lesley sang a pair non-verbal songs, waving their microphones in front of their mouths to create a kind of amplified Doppler effect.
People Get Ready closed the show their own high-energy set, which all but had the crowd up and dancing with Reker's drop kicks and spins. What would have otherwise come across as cookie-cutter indie rock felt more like genuine performance art, in the best sense of the word. Keep an eye out for these guys at a rock hall or art space near you.
On Saturday, the EMF moved over to Carnegie's Zankel Hall for the first time, where Missy Mizzoli's all-girl ensemble, Victoire, appeared with Wilco drummer and composer, Glenn Kotche, who you may have seen recently in a certain kitchen faucet ad. After Kotche's surprisingly bland, elementary opener, Bells and Honey, they returned with Missy's new take on the traditional vespers service, Vespers for a New Dark Age.
After taking a minute to get used to Andrea Katz's glaring white costumes, which made the performers look like space-age Vestal Virgins, I was quickly entranced by Missy's overlapping harmonies and elegant textures. A trio of singers from downtown's Trinity Choir—Mellissa Hughes, Martha Cluver, and Virgina Warnken—sang the cryptic, fragmented text by poet Matthew Zapruder, filled with haunting images of ghosts and machines that speak to our collective digital aphasia.
After intermission, Kotche returned with the New York premiere of John Luther Adams' Ilimaq—a mesmerizing 45-minute percussion solo that filled the stage with an arsenal of instruments, including an arena-sized drum kit of two bass drums, eight tom toms, and eight cymbals. Like much of Adams' ritualistic percussion music (most notably his Innuksuit for 100 percussionists), it was both hallucinatory and strikingly vivid, blending electronics and tape loops with Kotche's astonishingly precise drumming to create a swirling surround-sound effect that traversed an expansive sonic and spiritual landscape. According to Adams: "In Inuit tradition, the drum is a vehicle for travel. The shaman rides the sound of the drum —under the ice, into the earth, to the moon—to and from the spirit world."