The intersect between technology and music has been around since the Italian futurists in the early 1900s but the marriage of technology and musician never seemed quite as stark as Valgeir Sigurðsson and Zammuto‘s performances at the Spaceland Ballroom in Hamden, CT. Although I would not call either performer an electronic act, they both used technology in interesting and difficult ways.
The show began with Icelandic producer/pianist/composer, Valgeir Sigurðsson. Seated at his piano flanked by a Korg synthesizer and a Macbook, the music began with some foreboding deep electronic bass. Added to that bass was the violin plucking of Nadia Sirota. After a small build up, the Macbook began blasting deep bass pulses while the piano and violin played over the top. What was impressive was how in tune with the technology both Sigurosson and Sirota had to be. Although they both read from sheet music to be able to interact with technology like that and never (at least noticeably) falter was quite impressive.
A similar interaction with technology was presented with Zammuto yet it was very different. Unlike Sigurðsson, Zammuto is a bit more of a traditional rock band. Featuring Nick Zammuto of The Books fame on guitar, the band included a drummer, a guitarist/keyboardist, and Zammuto’s brother on bass. Although the band mostly had to interact with each other for the musical aspects of the show, they also had to sync up with an elaborate “found footage” projection show.
The projection show ranged from related to the song at hand to completely bizarre. While playing “Zebra Butt” from Zammuto’s debut self-titled album, the projection show was comprised completely of zebra butts. Although bizarre, it did relate to the song. During “Too Late to Topologize” from the same album, the projection show was comprised only of finger skateboarding footage. Equally bizarre as zebra butts but had nothing to do with the song. At one point during a Books song, the show was comprised completely of “strangely sexual” footage; of this, Nick Zammuto said “when you collect as much found video footage as I do, you eventually end up with a folder labeled ‘strangely sexual.'” The footage ranged from sausage being cased to women bending over in a workout video.
While the video projection did become the focal point of the show, I shouldn’t overlook the music. As odd as the projections were, they matched the weird world of Zammuto’s music. Some tracks like show opener “Yay” sounded like Fang Island‘s instrumental work while a track like “Too Late To Topologize” was fairly laid back with heavily autotuned vocals and mostly keyboards for instrumentation similar to Black Moth Super Rainbow.
Although Zammuto was clearly talented, the insouciance he exhibited seemed more like a hindrance than a help. The projections stood more to distract than add to the music and Zammuto seemed happier to make people laugh than to make them dance. It reminds me a little of Greg Kurstin’s debut project Geggy Tah which was too quirky to be anything more than a one hit wonder in the 90s. It was not until Kurstin moved on to songwriting work that he was able to find success (for instance, he wrote Tegan and Sara‘s massive hit “Closer”). I get a similar feeling that it won’t be until Zammuto gets serious and loses the projector that he will expand his fan base past a sparsely 200 people in Connecticut.