Alien and the ‘Planetarium’

I experienced a lot of culture this past Saturday. I wouldn’t say that I took in more culture than I normally do on a weekend. (Hi, I do spend most of my free time reading books and watching documentaries on Netflix.) It’s that it was more intense than usual. That afternoon, I caught Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers at the Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg. (The movie-viewing experience at this place is so good that I’ve barely seen a movie anywhere else in the past year. Any theater that doesn’t serve full meals and cocktails to your seat is just not worth it to me.) Anyway, it was…good. I mean, I was weird, obviously. But I was engaged the entire time and all of my complaints – some grating repetition, very little plot, etc. – were outweighed by former teen/tween stars partying in bikinis and going on murderous rampages, the genius (?) of James Franco as rapper/drug dealer Alien and – last but not least – the best musical sequence I’ve seen in years. (Surely, you’ve all heard about Franco’s poolside piano performance of Britney Spears’ ballad “Everytime” by this point?) Also, I didn’t mind all of the Skrillex on the soundtrack.

That evening, I enjoyed a different kind of cultural experience, this time at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. My friend Jen had invited me to see ‘Planetarium’, a collaboration between Nico Muhly, Sufjan Stevens, and Bryce Dessner of the National. I have been a Sufjan Stevens fan since high school but had never seen him live, so this was as good a chance as any to do so.





The first part of the show was a string quartet in front of the opera house curtain performing several pieces by Muhly, Stevens and Dessner. I especially enjoyed the songs from Stevens’ electronic album Enjoy Your Rabbit, which had been arranged for the quartet by Muhly and others. (These arrangements appeared on the album Run Rabbit Run.) After an intermission, we finally got to see ‘Planetarium’, an hour of “songs inspired by our solar system”. Muhly, Stevens and Dessner appeared on the stage along with the original quartet, a drummer and seven trombonists. One orchestral piece was devoted to each of the planets, the Moon and Pluto. (The playbill stated that Pluto was included “out of pity”.) Each piece was accompanied by projections of video art on a large sphere, as well as lights and lasers. I’ve honestly never seen a crowd so calm during a laser show and I’d like to think that’s because everyone was too absorbed in the music and atmosphere. But I think it was that the crowd didn’t really know how to behave during a show like this. I certainly didn’t. There were times when I was overwhelmed by the music and visuals. However, I’ll admit, I was bored during parts and I spent a good deal of time wondering when it would be appropriate for me to take pictures on my iPhone. But ultimately, I was really impressed with the execution and enjoyed the experience as a whole. (These positive feelings may or may not have been greatly increased when, for the encore, they played a cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that made me cry a little.)




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