"88BoaDrum" at the La Brea Tar Pits, August 8, 2008
(photos by Timothy Norris)
It's tempting to leave the evening alone and let it live on in the heads of those who attended and no one else. One theory is that to sully such tribal majesty with words is to diminish its power. But my job is to capture lightning in a bottle, so let's get sacrilegious.
Friday night at the La Brea Tar Pits, the Boredoms from Osaka, Japan convened 88 drummers to perform a piece called "88BoaDrum." The event began at 8:08 p.m. and was to last 88 minutes. The sun was setting as the sound of many many cymbals (88? or twice that number, 176?) brought a natural hiss to the grounds. Above in the sky, Saturn dangled as if from a string as sun gave way to moon and the first monster POUND arrived. Underneath, way below, the long-dead mammoths received a little wake-up call.
This kind of tribal conjuring is nothing new, of course. The sonic manifestation of the human heartbeat stretches back to the beginning of human time. Last Friday felt like some sort of warp. As that first POUND reverberated across the grounds, you could see some sort of twinkle of primal recognition register on faces. Even the whitest white-bread movie producer has a little tribalism tucked away in his DNA somewhere, and as the rhythm picked up, the audience became awestruck.
Take, for example, the Ramayana Monkey Chant, a story-song of Bali performed by 100-plus men chanting "cak" in rhythm. "88BoaDrum" felt a little like that: though lead Boredom Eye Yamataka wasn't telling the story of the monkey-like Vanara and Prince Rama wrestling with the evil King Ravana, the drummers were telling a story. There just wasn't any narrative. (Or maybe there was; Eye and fellow Boredom Yoshimi P-We did do some screaming in unison, and for all I know they were declaring war. It sure sounded like they were.)
As the evening progressed, the sound of 88 drummers banging in unison (or nearly in unison -- an exercise such as this certainly reveals the rhythm-deficient among the beaters) became a hypnotic mantra. It's no surprise that such sounds, when used in religious ceremonies, induces a trance. Within fifteen minutes I felt like I had taken some LSD, and I'm not the only one.
You gotta give props to the drummers, who sustained their rhythm for over an hour and a half with only a short bit of rest in the middle, right after an insanely great 88-person Keith-Moon-esque percussive freakout. That was the climax, and after a moment of profound silence borne of noise, the drummers collected themselves, rested their arms and moved to the second 45-minutes, which was more textured, more subtle and much more dynamic. I kept waiting for a big-ass grand finale, but it never came. Instead, as the time passed, the heartbeat stayed steady and confident. Eye was busy banging on his seven-necked guitar sculpture with a broom handle, delivering disharmony amidst the beat. The drummers kept going, the night darkened and the mammoths below did a little underground dance. (I heard it, I swear.)
As the piece wound down -- it lasted way more than 88 minutes -- and the noise gave way to silence, the crowd, which had been sitting for the duration, gradually rose to their feet and started to cheer. This was something to remember. There's something to be said for thinking big, for imagining something huge and then carrying it through to its logical conclusion. It makes the mediocre four-piece Silver Lake bands who trade in boredom seem even more bland and short-sighted than they are. Walk out of an east side club after one of those bands gigs and you feel exactly the same as when you entered (if maybe a little more drunk in order to kill the pain of mediocrity). Exit La Brea Tar Pits after witnessing something big, and you're changed. Or, as my friend Matt explained as the music ended: "I feel different." I think all of us who witnessed "88BoaDrum" can say the same thing.