Andrew Bird plays the Guggenheim

Before musician Andrew Bird stepped onto the small stage at the bottom of the Guggenheim rotunda for the second installation of their Dark Sounds summer concert series, the packed crowd had a chance to peruse a field of Victrola-style speakers arranged into groupings of 3-foot tall ‘hornlings’ and a few impressive 8-footers, playing the sounds of crickets. The brightly-colored mouths of the speakers – red, orange, gold – took on the feel of a garden at sunset and transformed what was essentially a bunch of amplifiers into an audiovisual landscape of organic forms.

The speakers are the brainchild of artist/sculptor/inventor/luthier (someone who makes string instruments) Ian Schneller of Specimen Products, and Bird has worked with them before, onstage at Carnegie Hall, Radio City, The Hollywood Bowl and The Sydney Opera House to name a few. He even has a specially-designed 2-headed spinning speaker that, along with the “forest of hornlings” before him, carried his music up to the very top of the rotunda where even the museum’s security guards and cleaning crew stopped their work to lean over and listen.

Bird was in fine form, deftly directing multiple loops of violin and vocals to different horn groupings, which acted like sections of an orchestra or “the musical equivalent of fireflies in a cornfield.” The looping whistles and violin was sometimes eery, sometimes nostalgic, often magical and definitely new. His vocals, it should be noted, were light on lyrics and heavy on whistling, something Bird does prettier than a Disney princess on a walk in the forest, ranging from a trilling warble to a single note that rang as clear as a bell.

The view from the top.