Intimacy and Performance

I’m always thrilled when a new experience foregrounds an otherwise unnoticed phenomena.

Last night I had just such an experience while watching Kerry Frumkin host eighth blackbird’s appearance on ‘Live from WFMT’, while others had the same experience while watching eighth blackbird itself.

The phenomena is that of the distance between artist and audience shattered by sudden intimacy.  I was first startled by an experience of this during a concert by Brandi Carlile, a young folk-rock singer with a powerful voice.  During the encore she unplugged her guitar, stepped in front of the mics and performed Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (a la Jeff Buckley) unamplified, directly into the audience.  All around me, jaws hung open wide.

What struck me so powerfully was the shift in perception that occurred with such intimacy.  While behind the lights, elevated on stage and booming through the sounds system, the performer is somehow ‘other’, and though enjoyed and appreciated, the truly extraordinary aspect of their craft is taken for granted.  The performative context serves to frame the work, but simultaneously reveals and conceals (yes: I am unapologetically Heideggerean in my aesthetics).  When that otherness is stripped, the performer becomes recognizable and their immense talent is abruptly foregrounded.

I listen to WFMT regularly while I work from home and am hence very familiar with the voices of the announcers and hosts.  I’ve always enjoyed listening to Kerry Frumkin, but last night, while watching him host the show live, I was shocked by his assured delivery, the relaxed confidence of his pacing, the completely accurate but yet-somehow-still-casual pronunciation of names.  I expect the disembodied voice coming out of my home speakers to achieves such feats, but to watch this regular guy sitting two feet away from me do it was startling.

Tim and Kerry Frumkin discuss

Now why am I lauding a pop singer and radio host on the blog of eighth blackbird?

I confess that even in such intimate spaces at the WFMT studio, I now take eighth blackbird’s musical skill for granted.  So though I am still frequently taken off guard by the beauty of the pieces they perform [loved Agócs Immutable Dreams!],  I just assume there is nothing Lisa, Matt, Matthew, Michael, Nick and Tim can’t do musically.   It is my one and only occupational hazard.

Luckily, there were others in attendance last night who were appropriately awed and whom I know had the experience I am describing.  Having attended eighth blackbird concerts at the Harris Theater and the MCA, they were nonetheless astounded while intimately witnessing eighth blackbird deftly perform the feats of technical prowess and aesthetic mastery that seem so natural onstage.

And like seeing your home town anew through the eyes of a visitor, while talking to our guests afterwards I too was reminded of just how extraordinary these six musicians are.

eighth blackbird performs at the Harris Theater on Thursday, February 19th at 7:30 pm

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