Bird Show: Bird Show

Ben Vida keeps things about as simple and as direct as possible on his third Bird Show outing and follow-up to 2006's Lightning Ghost. The new one's self-titled, for starters, plus its ten tracks eschew content-suggestive titles for plain ones like “Mbira, Harp and Voice” and “Berimbau” that consequently invite the listener to treat the tracks as formal exercises in pure sound. That the album's emphasis is sonic colour is intimated by both the cover photography and the range and number of instruments Vida plays on the album; Hammond XB-2, Moog Voyager, Gibson SG, Slit Drum, Pan Pipes, Shakers, Vietnamese Jaw Harp, Wood Flute, Elephant Bells, Violin, Zither, Ten String Harp, and Finger Cymbals are among those listed, but they're only about half of Vida's total arsenal.

Abetted by fellow kranky mates Greg Davis, Robert Lowe (aka Lichens), and others, Vida's drone meditations might evoke the far corners of the globe, but in fact all of it was laid down in Chicago, Illinois and Burlington, Vermont. No stranger to improv, Davis is Vida's ideal partner for “Clouds and Their Shadows,” a hallucinatory mass of kaleidoscopic instrumental colour (water burble, bells, gongs, vocal chants) that juxtaposes vibrant clatter with slow-motion voice chanting. In contrast to the extreme density of “Clouds and Their Shadows,” tracks such as “Synthesizer Solo” and “Percussion and Voice” strip their sonic contents to their essence.

Depending on your point of view, Vida's material either sounds retrograde (in that its largely acoustic “world music” jams suggest ‘60s psychedelia) or timeless (in that music of this type transcends a specific era, despite an association with the drug-addled‘60s that's hard to deny). Stoked by feverish instrumental interplay, “Two Organs and Dumbek,” for example, unspools like some peyote-fueled night jam by Terry Riley and Iron Butterfly conducted in the desert, while “Synthesizer Solo” could pass for an early ‘60s electronics piece, as if someone's tentatively exploring a newly-created instrument's possibilities. “Pan Pipe Ensemble and Voice,” on the other hand, updates Vida's sound by introducing processing treatments that give the see-sawing army of pan pipes a trippy quality that's unrelated to artificial stimulants. That more balanced fusion of yesterday and today suggests potentially rich avenues for future exploration.

October 2008