Pop Music Review
The Books Perform at the World Financial Center Gallery
By JON PARELES
Published: May 26, 2006
During the Books' set at the World Financial Center Gallery on Wednesday, Paul de Jong announced that there would be one minute of meditation. The word Meditation appeared on a screen overhead, and as a recorded voice repeated the word in various inflections, anagrams flashed above: "Time in a dot," "Do it, inmate," "I tamed Toni."
It was clever and well planned, a joke that didn't overplay itself. It also summed up the Books' sound-collector mentality, their fascination with repetition and permutations and their quizzical take on spirituality.
The Books wrap their music around found audio and video. Mr. de Jong on cello and Nick Zammuto on guitar lean toward a pastoral minimalism, creating gently motoric patterns over a handful of chords. Although their percussion is computer-generated, and their sounds are elaborately looped and layered, onstage the core of the music was revealed as counterpoint of fingerpicked guitar and cello melody. The underlying sound was close to that of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra or, in more intricate pieces, Steve Reich.
Amid the instruments the Books add sampled speech: bits of television or movie dialogue, or part of a lecture by the exuberant Zen Buddhist teacher Alan Watts.
When the Books got started in 2000, they made sound and video collages; more recently, as on their album "Lost and Safe" (Tomlab), they have turned toward song forms with their own lyrics. Mr. Zammuto sings quiet, philosophical ruminations about how "my mind has a mind of its own," or "Most of all the world is a place where parts of wholes are described/within an overarching paradigm of clarity and accuracy."
Onstage the next layer was videos: home movies, exercise videos, travelogues, old photographs, pictures of planets. Most of the images were cozy or amusing; they revealed sources for the music's sound bites or were edited into mild slapstick. At times the videos presented a disorderly world that the steady rhythm of the music would align. More often, however, the video made the songs less enigmatic than they are through headphones, in which the Books' meditative patterns and whispered conundrums stay open-ended, drawing a listener in.
The concert was part of PlayVision, a weekly series [curated by musician/composer Ben Neill] of performers who mingle sound and video, presented in the World Financial Center's new 200-seat gallery, tucked upstairs above its Winter Garden. The series concludes May 31 with a concert by Tmema.