Minimalist Jukebox,” the ambitious series produced by composer John Adams for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was kicked off in a fine, if somewhat scruffy, manner with an after-hours party of music headlined by British electronica pioneers the Orb.
With music nonstop from midnight until 6 a.m., the pristine sound and undulating vineyard seating of Disney Hall — standing in for a more prosaic warehouse, tent or loft — made for a most elegant site for a rave.
Various computer-generated animations, slowly morphing images, light sculptures and video were projected onto the walls outside the auditorium, and with the music onstage pumped throughout the hall, many of the mostly young, well-behaved members of the sold-out aud writhed (or nodded their heads enthusiastically) in the venue’s various lounges and bars.
Lineup was put together with great savvy. Drawn from the more thoughtful sides of electronic dance music and noise-embracing art rock, the sounds heard Saturday night were a less rigorous pop correlative to the high minimalism that follows over the following two weeks.
The moody sound collages of Dntel (Jimmy Tamborello of the Postal Service), with their looped vinyl scratches, eerie washes of white noise, rumbling bass and random crackles and pops, have their ear cocked toward some of the more outre experiments of Terry Riley or Iannis Xenakis but can at times sound like pretentious movie soundtracks (a section built around a deeply intoned drone came perilously close to the score for the orgy scene in Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut). There were moments when it all cohered into a craggy beauty.
The exploded song forms and aggressively strummed guitars of Boom Bip — the only act to use live instruments — take their most obvious musical cues from Krautrock acts such as Neu! or Can, but Bryan Hollon shares a love of feedback and overtones with Glenn Branca (whose Symphony No. 13, “Hallucination City,” played on 100 electric guitars, should be a highlight of the series when it receives its West Coast premiere March 29).
John Tejada’s less assaultive variant of four-on-the-floor techno can trace its love of repetition and blurring of the idea of foreground and background to the early work of Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass, but he brings a light touch and playful wit. His synthesized lines skipping over a rumbling drum groove have a sprightly charm of their own, but as the music chugs along, he replaces notes with electronic blips or raspberries like a modern-day Spike Jones while the song’s careening energy feels like a love child of Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse” and Louis Andriessen’s “Worker’s Union.”
That mixture of druggy giddiness and musical heft also characterized the Orb.
Standing behind a table laden with turntables, CD players, samplers, mixing boards and a laptop, Orb mastermind Dr. Alex Patterson and his longtime collaborator Thomas Fehlmann don’t so much play live as perform real-time remixes of material from the Orb’s 18-year career, including their most recent, “Okie Dokey, It’s the Orb on Kompakt” (Kompakt).
The set’s most exciting moments came when the two musicians were in sync, playing off each other with the timing of a great comic team. Patterson would pull a record or CD out of the back packs and folders at his feet, tweak the sound a bit, then allow Fehlmann to treat the sound, and Patterson would find something to layer over the result. By just changing the accents, they would cause the groove to fold in on itself and turn into a new song. Their solo showcases that bookended the set were comparatively less exciting, if only because they felt more like monologues.
The Orb’s music is hard to categorize, because while the attenuated song structures and pared-down chord patterns can be heard as distinctly minimal, the music rarely remains in one style for more than a few bars. It’s Ritalin music, minimalism with ADD. That’s not a putdown: Flitting from gorgeously fluffy chords to a deeply echoed dub to Middle Eastern dance rhythms to a skittery shuffle, it’s music as high-wire acrobatics that send a vertiginous thrill up one’s spine.
When the evening was done and the audience exited the hall into a new day dawning over downtown L.A., you couldn’t help feeling that you took part in a truly special event. And for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Society — which did a wonderful job in putting it together — it was an experiment that paid off handsomely.
The Orb plays the Avalon in New York on April 1.