The Counting Song by thingNY
A dozen people must have sent me the New York Times article that ran last month illustrating the mental price we’re all paying for our constant, spastic use of technology. I tried not to take it personally, but looking around my desk at my laptop, my iPhone, and at the never ceasing stream of new items cluttering up my inbox and my Google reader, it was hard not to see myself in the story. I am an addict.
The writer suggested that our inability to remember key facts or focus our attention could be traced to the many hours of practice we’ve invested in fidgeting with our smart phones and our Twitter trackers. We are hooked on the stimulation while drowning in the data deluge. I know I can’t read more than 500 words on a screen anymore without getting antsy. I have started calling it Google brain.
thingNY seems to be riding this cultural zeitgeist with flair. Their experimental opera ADDDDDDDDD takes rapid-fire, largely spoken-word lyrical content and plays it out across a pulse-raising background constructed of sonic accents like dinging bells and remote control channel changing—multiple streams of content flashing by at warp speed. Even in its audio-only CD release format, it’s somehow all consuming. I bet no one feels the urge to check their email during a live performance.
Isabel Castellvi, Andrew Livingston, Paul Pinto, Erin Rogers, and Jeffrey Young, the five composer/performers behind ADDDDDDDDD, use bursts of noise tangled with a playful chamber orchestra to craft a hodgepodge of accompaniment throughout the 12-track piece, but the non-singing human voices stand front and center from start to finish. There’s the Woody Allen-esque navel gazing neurotic, the irritatingly chipper infomercial salesman, and a whole host of actors emphatically giving voice to dialog that, for most of us, is usually kept internal. Singing on occasion is acceptable, but most of the content is fed to the listener in a kind of performative, book-on-tape narrative style. Still, instead of reading the audience one book, it’s as if they’re interchangeably reading ten. With commercials.
If by the penultimate track you’re a bit dizzy and clicking around in search of the stop button on this sonic ride, I suspect that’s a credit to the authors of the piece. It’s a junk food ride, like consuming hours of bad TV on a Sunday afternoon. Even with time outs for good-natured drinking songs and an instrumental overture unconventionally placed at nearly the end of the album, so much stimulation—even when it’s strings of witty one-liners—still does not quite leave one sated. In the last track, however, the summit of the binge has been reached and the mood turns reflective. It’s the morning after, and in that cold light it’s time to face what the drug of informational chaos is masking. “I wish you would eat better”; “I wish you would speak to me sometimes”; “I wish you would love me so much.”
ADDDDDDDDD is packaged with a fun, quirky, comic book libretto. A lovely item that takes the album a step beyond the usual CD release, it makes the physical object in the digital age an interesting piece of art in and of itself, worthy of shelf space and providing plenty of additional visual stimulation.