The New World Symphony’s home in Miami Beach has seen many interesting performances over the years. But none of them matched the event Borscht Corp., III Points, Coral Morphologic, and Animal Collective, among other musicians, threw together for Friday night.
Part of the tenth iteration of the Borscht Film Festival, Coral Orgy was hyped as "a collaborative, site-specific performance celebrating the cosmic synchronicity of sex on the reef." The imagery was provided by Miami's Coral Morphologic. A collaboration between marine biologist Colin Foord and musician Jared McKay, Coral Morphologic’s closeup scenes of coral life under water present sea life as you have never seen it before. The brilliant colors of the sea creatures are always presented in tight closeup, out of context of their habitat, allowing their natural color, movement, and texture to define them. With McKay’s ambient music, these creatures become psychedelic experiences. The images could have been shot on an undiscovered planet or in another dimension, for all the viewer knows.
During this event, high-definition video of the creatures was projection-mapped onto the five curved screens in the main hall of the New World Center. As can be expected from the Borscht crew, which prides itself on being so Miami, the event started late. After a taste of Coral Morphologic’s images, the first musician to take the stage was Hot Sugar, a DJ/producer based in New York. The coral images were replaced by digital projections featuring objects such as digitally created roses in opulent mirrors, which Hot Sugar has used in previous shows. It was all a bit dull, considering the anticipation for the main act.
Offering ambient music with a glitchy beat that sounded like Aphex Twin, Hot Sugar — real name Nick Koenig — danced at his deck as if in a rave, yet most of the audience sat in giant beanbags or the venue’s seating. After mixing it up by picking up an electric guitar with a clear body, Koenig asked, “Is anybody still out there? You're all so chill.”
At that point, I wandered to the SunTrust Pavilion for Otto von Shriach’s Bermuda Triangle ritual. He was advertised as having a surprise guest, and what a treat that guest was. Joseph Keckler is a performance artist from New York who is classically trained in opera. He prepped attendees with a little speech in a nasally voice that could have never readied you for the baritone that sang in Italian about a bad mushroom trip (lyrics were projected on a screen). There were some technical difficulties during the laughing part (translated as “Ha. Ha. Ha.” on the screen) as the video froze to buffer and some unseen technician who didn’t reply to Keckler’s pleas of “Could someone tell me what is happening?” recued to the laughter part and Keckler resumed his operatic laughter. But the glitch only added to the charm of the performance.
After Keckler gave the crowd an encore with a song that revealed the perils of spying on a lover’s text messages, von Shirach climbed up a pyramid inside the pavilion to kick off his set. To images of Mayan pyramids projected next to his deck and black-and-white vortex animation that spilled onto von Shriach’s white onesie, he wrapped/sang in Miami Spanglish about another dimension. Below him, Santería-like priestesses in sheer gowns writhed while holding lighted wands and drawing triangles on attendees’ foreheads with white grease pencils. Meanwhile, von Shirach offered a cheesy instrumental cover of “Under the Sea” and sang about third eyes and the Bermuda Triangle, with the mike echoing his lyrics a meaningful three times. Oh, and there was a half-white tiger/half-man with a scepter.
After this trippy experience, it was back to the main hall for the headline event. As thrilling as the moment in the SunTrust Pavilion felt, the impressive though relaxing melding of the coral orgy and the modern psychedelic rock/ambient drone music of Animal Collective was divinely impressive.
A sort of musical breeze wafted from the dark stage below the imagery of coral tendrils that seemed to wave along to the spare organs and the echoey vocals of Avey Tare, whose voice was so processed he might as well have been singing in a foreign language. The music built steadily, as layers were piled on, including electronic rhythms that sounded like treated hammered dulcimers, metallic grinding, and hyperstylized laser-treated chirping. Tare sang sparingly, his mostly unintelligible vocals melting with the music.
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Who knows what the instrumentation actually was? The stage was dark, and the coral orgy took the limelight. Cameras panned over undulating orbs that sometimes collapsed into themselves before puffing up again. Little pink bubbles drifted heavenward as layers of chirping and the cooing of Tare rode a wave of humming melodies. When the semen spewed forth, it didn’t come with a tacky bang, but in little wisps, adding to the breezy quality of the event's vibe.
The pieces by Animal Collective bled into one another; only in spare moments would there be a slight shift in tone, as the trio — which also included Geologist and Deakin (Panda Bear wasn't there) — in the shadows gave birth to a new song with new layers of rhythms, drones, and melodies. The changes were as slight, varied, and unnoticeable as the repetition of waves lapping at the shore. There was no chance for applause because many in the audience were lulled into a trance. Still, one could hear plenty of chatter from attendees not invested in the spectacle, but their voices all bled into the drones.
Out of the 400 or so people inside, maybe 40 concertgoers were pressed up to the edge of the stage to give their full attention to the band, performing below the towering, colorful images of coral, worms, and anemones. Many attendees walked in and out, while some slept on the beanbags or stared up into the heights of the coral orgy. During an ominous, heavy, warped, synthesized drone and whir, the camera slowly zoomed into the maw of a creature, revealing layers of lips that spewed a milky substance into the sea water around it. Bulbous red tendrils encircled a neon green center that might as well have held infinity itself — an ouroboros from the co-opters of the ouroboros.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.