Sunday night I had the pleasure of my first Portland Cello Project show which happened to be part of a series “Chamber vs Chamber” put on by local radio station KEXP and hosted at the fabulous hundred year old Sorrento Hotel (think a miniature version of the Overlook Hotel) The series brings two very different musical styles together in a collaborative environment: in this case it was six cellists from PCP and the psychadelic metal band Lesbian.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, having only once dipped my toe into the metal ocean (thanks to Monica Stayner in 5th grade) but I’ve heard great things about the venue and the series, so I jumped in.
It was an absolutely perfect venue to see my favorite cello band live for the very first time. The Sorrento is one of the most beautifully kept old hotels in Seattle, and we were in the intimately cozy lounge. At most the place sat 150 people. We sat directly in front of the cellos, of course. The PCP opened the show, then Lesbian came on and they played together on a collaboration, and finally Lesbian closed with songs from their album. After a brief intermission, both bands came back and had a discussion/question and answer session with the hosts and audience.
For me, this was the most wonderful part of the whole experience (aside from getting to sit less than ten feet from incredible Anna Fritz, whose combination of perfect posture, composed performance expression and truly swanlike bow arm make me pretty much want to be her when I “grow up”) was listening to the two groups of musicians talk about the process of collaboration and what they learned from working together.
My top three takeaways:
1. Classical and metal have a lot in common. Like classical music, metal has structure. Lots and lots. Like metal (especially the psychedelic kind), classical music can be physically demanding. Imagine playing a single song (or piece) for an HOUR. No breaks. Yeah.
2. An open mind is a beautiful thing. Both groups approached the experience with an interest and curiosity about each other. It was wonderful to hear how much respect each set of musicians had for each other at the end of the experience and how much it had changed their perception of one another and approach to music.
3. Tone, Tone, Tone. (Hmm…wonder why that’s been coming up so much lately?) One of the most challenging things about the collaboration sited by Lesbian was the need to “turn themselves down” for both the collaboration and the venue. They actually had no idea what decible level they played at normally, and had to acquire a meter and test then turn themselves down (even more than they had previously thought was necessary). As the lead singer noted, volume and distortion hide a lot of tone issues (like vibrato, anyone?), and for this collaboration, the band had to really focus on tone because each note was getting a lot more attention. It was an experience he was sure would improve their sound greatly once they turned it back up again at the Chop Suey show a couple of nights later. From the audience perspective, a lower volume brought out subtleties and nuances in the music and the interaction between instruments (especially the guitars) that I noticed in a way I usually don’t in metal. Plus the orchestration added by the cello really became a vital part of the song.
Have I been converted to metal – probably not – but I have a new appreciation for what goes into it. And though I am not generally the fan girl type, I did manage to compose myself long enough to have a conversation with Ms. Fritz without going totally “squeee” and discussed the possibility of a lesson next time I’m in PDX.