In a Fader TV spot from last June, Luke Fischbeck of Lucky Dragons mentioned that “The last two shows I played in New York, I’d hand somebody a rock and they’d say ‘Oh no no, not for me,’ and I’d be like, ‘It’s just a rock.'” Maybe you’ve been in this situation: A skinny, clear-eyed androgyne hands you a rock, and you are supposed to surrender to the tide of creativity welling inside your heart. So you get the bell or the rock or whatever it is and you make some quiet gesture with it. When you realize nobody has made fun of you, you do it again, louder. Then you look next to you and see that actually, someone else has a bell or a rock, and they’re making some gesture with it too, and they’re smiling.
This rock-in-hand situation is something visitors at saxophonist John Zorn’s Lower East Side venue the Stone have probably come to expect. At the Stone, there is one hour-long set at 8. It costs $10. There is another hour-long set, with completely different musicians, that starts at 10. This also costs $10. You can go to one or both or neither. “Primarily, I wanted to bring new artists there,” says guitarist Grey Gersten, curator of the May calendar. “But I also wanted to bridge some of what’s happening in the Brooklyn underground scene with the scene in Manhattan.” It’s a divide–between young, punk-weaned audiences following Todd P and Pitchfork-approved “avant-garde” musicians, and the older, almost consecrated circle around a downtown Manhattan performer like John Zorn–that can feel vast. “I wanted to create nights where people would want to stay for both sets, or where people could be turned onto new things,” adds Gersten, whose ambitions led to juxtaposing musicians who have aesthetic similarities but different fan bases, like Saturday night’s Lucky Dragons / Pauline Oliveros double bill. “A lot of people might not know Lucky Dragons, but will know Pauline Oliveros, and vice versa. Even though their audiences are really different, the music has a lot in common.”
Take my father, who, at nearly 60, is an inspiringly broad-minded listener but basically prefers the Beatles in almost every scenario. A group like Lucky Dragons–two wispy Californians who produce twitchy, quasi-religious music from live loops of small, acoustic instruments–represent everything he has no tolerance for in public performance: Drones, bells, plinks, clanks, murmurs, hums and wonder, but not a lot of middle eights or direction. Their music sounds nothing like the Beatles’. We get to the point in the group’s set where Luke and Sara–the Dragons–hand out these snaking cables wrapped in rainbows of yarn, with exposed wire at the end. These are hooked up to a laptop, which, in a kind of basic sorcery I don’t understand in the slightest, generate sound if the person holding the wire is touched by a person holding another wire. (Forget my explanation: watch this.)
So what we have here is a bunch of people holding multi-colored wires and touching each other. Naturally, I’m worried that my father is going to spend the rest of the night wandering around Manhattan wondering where he went wrong with me, but he didn’t. “A few minutes in, I realized I could either sit there hating it or just go with it,” he told me later. “And I went with it. And you know? I’m really glad. Thanks for having me out, son.”
Dad leaves, and I stay for the 77-year-old composer and accordionist Pauline Oliveros. Oliveros’s music tends toward the meditative and hushed–the breath of an accordion; recordings made in large, reverberant spaces; drones. She’s been playing her instrument so long that it really does sound like an appendage: no wheezes or stutters; long, smooth tails on every note. She switches to playing two iPhone apps. One simulates a struti box, an Indian drone tool; the other is a kind of dulcimer sound. I don’t know that the music was particularly innovative, but it was effective–the audience nodded, sighed, and slipped away for an hour, left with nothing to remember. I only snapped out of whatever you want to call that particular mental state when I heard “A Milli” playing in the street outside. Oliveros’s stage banter wasn’t exactly funny, but one aside — about the astrological perils of Mercury in retrograde — could’ve summed up the entire night: “Now, some of you will know just what I’m talking about and others of you will think it was silly, but I think it’s important.” Me too.
Grey Gersten curates at the Stone through the end of May.