On a tremendously rainy day in Long Island City, Queens, a dedicated crowd headed to PS1, the schoolhouse modified to a modern art museum, to hear Shelley Hirsch and Daniel DelZotto perform. On a stage at the front of the cafe, surrounded by paintings, Hirsch worked with two mics and a small stack of electronics, while DelZotto sat at a table with a Macintosh iBook.
Arriving early for the sound check, Hirsch was working with the engineer on the mix for the first part of the show, "States." True to form this was as much a part of her performance as the scheduled performance itself, as Hirsch, singing, extemporized to the impromptu audience "you know, this is the sound check, but who knows, maybe it won't get any better than this..." It did, but it was a joy to watch her work on the effects and timing of the prerecorded soundtrack. After the sound check she mingled with the crowd, affably discussing her work.
The show began with a solo performance of the aforementioned "States," and the introduction invited us to pay special note to her gestures and movements throughout the piece. For Hirsch, working with a recording takes away none of the spontaneity and pleasure of the work, as she expressed the different sections of the piece in various personas and characterizations. "States" is a major work, a stream of consciousness piece that transforms Hirsch from chanteuse to the girl next door, shy to boisterous, and a variety of unexpected characters in between. The music draws from a huge set of genres, including jazz, indian, pop, classical, soundtrack, noise and even recorded applause. Throughout, Hirsch took on the mantles of many characters in sweeping gestures, at times using her body itself as she beat her chest and shook to affect the quality of sound, whistling and making the kind of vocal noises your mother once demanded be stopped, but in context expressing the complex language of the piece.
After a brief intermission Hirsch and DelZotto returned as a duo. This was the first time Hirsch had worked with DelZotto, who uses the program Reason to develop looping structures of synchopated rhythms, providing a solid foundation on which Hirsch was able to improvise. Hirsch explained to me that this was the first time she had worked with this musical format, and she reacted to the solid foundation with freedom and assurance. Hirsch was also experimenting with electronics, using a harmonizer that provided a degree of unpredictability that she seemed to thrive on. In an ironic gesture to the imminent NYC moratorium on cell phones in performance, a local ordinance recently passed by the Common Council, Hirsch gave out her phone number to audience so that they could phone in and participate in the performance.
The results were unusual and interesting: DelZotto kept the beats solid but varied, never settling into any single groove while providing a great degree of funky stability; his sounds included crunchy and indescribable noise that kept the sound varied and driving. Hirsch's used her harmonizer to change herself from a monstrous beast to a tiny chipmunk, a seemingly empowering act which Hirsch used as a mask to transform herself. Her improvisations covered, not surprisingly, themes of multiplicity interworked with strange images, evolving into a free association about her brother. The phone-in was a bit problematic, but acted as a mechanism to draw in the crowd, eliciting responses, laughter and discussion between Hirsch and the audience. That is, of course, the beauty of Hirsch's performances, that she seeks to break the barriers between the stage and the seats. This performance was a great example of her ability to do so.
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