Icelandic Indie experimentalists MÃºm headlined the November 10 installment of the Wordless Music Series in NYC. This series keeps getting better and better. The entire lineup was nothing short of fantastic.
The evening began with a performance on piano by composer Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka) whose spirited compositions both intrigued and astounded the full-house at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Bertelmann, was followed by Brooklyn-based ensemble Bing and Ruth. Formed in 2006 by composer and pianist David Moore, Bing and Ruth plays multi-instrumental, acoustic compositions that are passionate, haunting and exceedingly beautiful.
For most of the audience, I think Bertelmann’s performance defied the normal conception of what a piano should sound like. While the first pieces of his set were punctuated by his manual plucking of the piano strings, the plucking alone did not describe the interesting and, at times, other-worldly sounds that resonated within the body of the instrument.
Signaling that the music might further diverge from convention, Bertelmann traded his cream-colored jacket for a brown and blue CBGB t-shirt after his first songs. Just as foreshadowed, Hauschka removed wedges, bottle caps and an entire roll of gaffers tape from the piano as his set processed. This pile of miscellany, which lay strewn about the stage after his curtain call, revealed, in part, the secrets of his engaging and distinctive sound. Sample some of the wonder that is Hauschka here.
Taking the stage quietly, Bing and Ruth proceeded to further captivate an already warm and excited audience. With an ensemble that included vocalists, cello, percussion, upright bass, two clarinets, synth and piano, David Moore created beautiful layered soundscapes with subtle character and haunting depth. To fully understand what I mean, I recommend listening to Chaperone to a Civil War off of Bing and Ruth’s 2007 release, Kentile Floors.
I was extremely impressed by the amount of skill and precision exhibited by each of the members of Bing and Ruth.
Closing the US leg of their international tour, MÃºm played two sets for The Wordless Music Series. The band’s Friday night show was deemed to be their quiet one – this was the loud one. With a cornucopia of tools that included trumpet, toy keyboards, recorder, and kazoo, the Icelandic group delighted the audience with a range of songs; many tracks inspired a kind of peaceful contemplation while some of the newer work seemed perfect for dancing. I must admit that the work of MÃºm’s new album, Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy, is much brighter and livelier that I was prepared for. As live performances go, this was a very good thing.
Though they have not entirely abandoned the hazy quasi-trip-hoppy sounds of older work found on Finally We Are No One and Summer Make Good (both of which never leave my ipod), many of the songs they performed had a motion and exuberance that are best described by the image of a young child running across a field with a red kite.
MÃºm’s performance was positively superb.
Photographing a band with seven members is normally a nightmare in a city where the average apartment is the size of a Malibu closet and many venues are quite literally, basements. Luckily, the stage at the NY Society for Ethical Culture is both wide and deep. Like my shoot of Grizzly bear in the same venue just days before, I was seated on the floor in front of the stage for the entire set. Though members of MÃºm did dance and move about the stage from time to time, most of the members remained stationery throughout their show.
Though there was no song limit, my photography was limited (for good reason) by the quiet atmosphere of the venue. The shutter actuation of my EOS 1D Mark III on silent mode was still loud enough to disturb the audience during all three performances. The reduced shot count made me acutely aware of my exposure and meant that I needed to nail every shot that I took.
Though the rig consisted almost entirely of red or blue wash, the lighting was as much in my favor as possible. Unlike my previous experiences at this venue, the lighting remained consistent for ample periods of time on virtually all members of the band.
With three fast lenses at my disposal, my exposure hovered around 1/40 – 1/100 at ISO 3200 for the entire show. As always, my white balance was set to Auto, my camera was set to single focus, and the point of focus was attained by moving the active AF point rather than focus and recompose.
After having a few too many shoots recently that necessitated the use of ISO 6400 for decent exposures, I purchased the Canon 50mm f/1.4. Stopped down to F/2.0, this lens saw a decent amount of use during all three acts.
The lens that saw the lion’s share of work was the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS L. Even though I love my 135mm f/2.0, for its size and lovely bokeh, there is no replacement for the image stabilization feature of the 70-200mm IS. Although it’s huge, heavy and mug-me white, this lens allowed me to produce sharp images at 1/40.
After missing out on a potential back-stage photo of Paul Simon with Grizzly Bear the week before, I opted to fill the last slot on my belt with the Canon 580EX II speedlight. With a guide number of 58, the EX II has enough power to fill even the most cavernous of rooms with a bounce flash. The band shot at the top of this article was achieved by shooting the 580EX II behind me, over my head, at a white wall. The flash bounced off this wall and the white ceiling creating nice, even light with few shadows.