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Animal Collective
Credit: Roger Kisby/Getty Images

Image Credit: Roger Kisby/Getty ImagesPractically the first thing the Guggenheim Museum‘s staff told journalists who inquired last month about the institution’s recently announced Animal Collective event was that it was “not a live concert (nor an art exhibition!).” After releasing an album deemed to be 2009’s best by EW as well as many other critics, the band is taking an extended break from touring in the traditional sense, preferring to travel the country to present avant-garde projects like their film ODDSAC and, well, this Guggenheim thing. Which was what, exactly? “For the Guggenheim’s 50th Anniversary,” the museum’s website explained, “the band Animal Collective has collaborated with artist [and ODDSAC director] Danny Perez on a site-specific performance piece that will transform the museum’s rotunda into a kinetic, psychedelic environment. Transverse Temporal Gyrus will feature original recorded music composed specifically for the event along with video projections, costumes, and props, rendering the band members and performers into intense, visual abstractions.” Watching the bizarre videos Perez has directed for Animal Collective’s “Who Could Win a Rabbit?” (2004) and “Summertime Clothes” (2009) gave some sense of what attendees might be in for. Only one thing remained: to visit the Guggenheim last night for the second of two performances and experience Transverse Temporal Gyrus first-hand.

Waiting in line outside the museum, a friend and I heard ominous rumblings from within. They got louder as we entered and saw what the band and Perez had done with the Guggenheim’s iconic spiral rotunda, its walls stripped bare of all other artwork. In the middle of the rotunda’s entry-level floor stood a bunch of transparent stalagmites and a white hill of sorts covered in flickering projections. We became aware of one — no, two — no, three costumed people standing in the center of the rotunda, surrounded by on-lookers. Each one leaned over a podium with a round video screen looping blurry images. Their faces were obscured by horned, deformed masks that called to mind Fever Ray’s Karin Dreijer Andersson and Frank from Donnie Darko. They did not speak and moved as little as possible, except to turn creepily toward nearby audience members from time to time. I entered a staring contest with the masked man on the right; he won. I locked eyes with another masked figure across the space and prevailed. Were these the members of Animal Collective? I wasn’t sure, though the next morning the band’s management would inform me that behind the masks were indeed three of Animal Collective’s four principals: Geologist (Brian Weitz), Deakin (Josh Dibb), and Avey Tare (Dave Portner), shown left to right below.

Image Credit: Roger Kisby/Getty Images

We decided to make our way up the Guggenheim’s spiraling ramp, as the tickets handed to us upon entering suggested. The music became still louder and more distorted, with shards oforgan riffs and assorted musique concrète noise rising and falling à la “Revolution 9” or side two of an Olivia Tremor Control album. The sounds continued to evolve as we ascended, as did the lights and video projections, casting a multiplicity of shadows on the walls and ceilings. Glancing downward, we saw the mass of ground-floor attendees we had just left, gazing worshipfully up at the three silent band members. From above, it looked kind of like an indie-rock concert, after all. Noises blasted out from unexpected corners of the museum. Blinding lights shone in our faces. Around us, more people walked, mostly young and well-dressed, some of them wearing face paint, all looking slightly dazed.

We passed a couple of guys manning a large computer screen where six overlapping windows full of some elaborate programming code were displayed for all to see. The words “pool: CHAOS” could be made out on one window, as could a legend reading “coded by Stephan Moore” and “” One of the guys at the screen told me he was Stephan Moore, and that his code was controlling the more or less random sound cues we heard coming out of 36 speakers strategically placed around the museum. Moore said he had only gotten this coding job the previous morning, one day before the event. “Not a lot of sleep between then and now,” he noted. Moore usually works as a sound engineer and audio artist for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and Brooklyn’s Issue Project Room, among others. He’d never interacted with any of the band members before a mutual colleague recommended him for this gig. Like many artists, he told me, he’d always hoped to do something with the Guggenheim’s stunning Frank Lloyd Wright-designed space. “Now I’ve got my chance,” he grinned.

Wandering up and down the museum’s ramps, it was easy to lose track of time. I discovered we had been immersed in Transverse Temporal Gyrus for nearly two hours. Periodically I’d heard someone wishing the band would pull out instruments and perform; they didn’t, of course. It probably would have been more fun to see an actual Animal Collective concert, but that was never going to happen here. I’m certainly not sorry I got to partake of such a strange, unique experience in such an awesome space. Making a mental note to return to the Guggenheim before artist Tino Seghal’s well-reviewed exhibition closes next week, I headed with my friend for the exit.

Were any of you at the Guggenheim last night or yesterday afternoon? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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