Brooklyn Festival: Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner & Nico Muhly @ Walt Disney Concert Hall | 4.22.13

If you're just joining us, I was two days recovered from the Antlers and their wall of sound performance in the high tech Walt Disney Concert Hall. The "Brooklyn Festival" continued there through the weekend, but I was only interested in attending the closer: "Planetarium," a solar-system inspired collaborative set of songs by Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner (The National) and Nico Muhly. The combination of Sufjan Stevens and the vague description, I was prepared for anything. Wordless orchestral composition in 15 movements, an educational film set to music and a giant diorama with costumed characters were all on the board. It turned out to be a bombastic, larger than life visual/audio feast full of video art, light shows, and prog rock songs from an alternate universe.

Despite the all-star lineup and musical talent on stage, the show was made by its visual component. Hanging above center stage was a 20 foot tall, pitch-black inflated sphere. I had originally thought it was 2 dimensional because of how much it sucked in light, giving no clues to its shape. When the songs were on, visualizer-style abstract video art was projected precisely onto it. For the song "Jupiter," a light flare would swirl in hot colors, resembling the giant's eye. For "Saturn," stripes with the texture of vinyl would run across the sphere and occasionally look like cut up close ups of its rings. For "The Sun," a snake-like trail of fire drew across the darkened orb, dying and sparking in a cycle as Sufjan sent adrift a short, "Redmond"-like ambient piece. For "Earth", a blue smoke that eventually faded into a 3 dimensional kaleidoscope with the texture of Earth's satellite photos.

Each was complimented by 360 degrees of colored spotlight constructions and lasers cutting across the darkened auditorium. I try my best, but it's almost pointless for me to try and describe the effect of the art. Even the video embedded above doesn't do it justice — it's one thing to see it in a tiny 560 pixel rectangle, it's another thing to be surrounded by it — it was the atmosphere of the night. The visuals were creative, playful and emotive, all set to the music of Sufjan Stevens.

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