Lou Reed: Metal Machine Music
Written by Bwog Staff
A tidal wave of sound hit Miller Theater last night during Lou Reed: Metal Machine Music—an orchestral rendition of Reed’s 1975 avant-garde album of the same name. The original album consists entirely of electric guitar feedback played at varying speeds, and the purpose of last night’s performance was to capture the same electronically distorted heavy-metal sound using an entirely acoustic ensemble. Far from your average orchestra concert, the performance was an intense, high-volume, sustained auditory drone that perfectly reflected how music of its kind came to be appropriately titled “noise music.”
Originally, Reed composed the piece by leaning two electric guitars up against large amplifiers positioned opposite one another. By tuning the guitars in unusual ways and manipulating their reverb levels, he was able to vibrate their strings using only feedback. Innovative, certainly, but the album was not well received by music critics at the time. Rolling Stone Magazine described the piece as sounding like “the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator” – which, I must say, is not far off the mark.
Conducted and arranged by Ulrich Krieger and performed by the Fireworks Ensemble, the concert reinterpreted Reed’s vision with a more classical approach. The 16-piece ensemble performed each 16-minute segment back-to-back with robust enthusiasm, and although one could pick out the sound of individual instruments at times, the heavy-metal essence was not lost in the slightest. The violin section kept up a rapid oscillation that comprised a backdrop soundscape for the duration of the piece, and all of the musicians put their entire body into their playing—fiercely rocking back and forth to keep time in true head-banging fashion. To achieve the most unusual sounds, the performers played their instruments in unique ways. In fact, the pianist spent more time leaning inside the grand piano scraping at the strings than he did sitting on the bench and playing the keys.
After a few initial minutes of agony, I was able to sink in to the sound. Although I wouldn’t choose to listen to Metal Machine Music on a regular basis, the nuanced rhythms and Zen-inducing pulses made for an interesting musical experience, and during the ovation after the show, the man himself, Lou Reed, was coaxed up on stage to share in the applause.
Photos courtesy of the TIC Diana Wong from this week’s rehearsals