Output’s Funktion One sound system in Brooklyn is a pinnacle of the desire for maximum sensory appeal, clattering out powerful haptic basslines without irritating the ear. Tonight, Bonobo’s metallic drums beat out African rhythms while digital chirps and glitches glitter across the muddled dancefloor. After hours of dancing I curl up on a leather couch, hidden under the edge of a balcony, yet just off the center of the dancefloor and bathed in the sound, light, and movement. An ideal vantage point for a social arena. I can just see up over the fog of the main dancefloor, past the spinning spherical mirror, to the upper balcony where lights pulse over dancers spinning glowing sticks. It’s like peering through a kaleidoscope, as if someone has carefully organized a handful of light and then scattered it across the dancefloor like marbles. An intertwined textile of nimble melodies punctuated by clattering trash can lids and chocolatey bass lines pours out of the speaker stacks.
Immersive concert experiences such as this draw upon a rich history in New York, notably from Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable shows. These multimedia events in the mid-‘60s combined musical performances from The Velvet Underground, the visual stimuli of Warhol’s films, and dancing by regulars of Warhol’s Factory. The integration of sound, visual, and performance with an expanded cinema created synaesthetic connections caused by often violently clashing stimuli of projections, lights, disco balls, food, sound, music and dance performance, and more. The divergence of these events from the elitist crowd of Allen Kaprow’s Happenings caused them to draw a younger, grittier crowd of cultures on the fringe, a demographic that still (ideally) drives the scene today.
Walking towards the roof I twirl past a couple ballroom dancing on the balcony to acid jazz and metallic chirps stemming from below. What elevates the event beyond a sensory kaleidoscope and into an immersive world is the relationships of strangers. On the rooftop characters mingle; I meet a young Japanese guy named Matsuko with hemp-fur boots and multicolored tights who is wrapped in a silver space blanket. In limited English he explains that he’s visiting this city for the first time from Tokyo. All around me bizarre characters form an immersive theatre of sorts, an impromptu and unscripted performance by the audience in which the lines are blurred between stage and reality. Gender immersion in a safe environment leaves traditional gender roles discarded in unlit corners. In an alternate room a small handful are getting down on a tiny dancefloor cloaked by a black fur wall and framed paintings of leopards.
Along the waxing morning walk home, I pick up a silver line-form tesseract the size of a small cupboard sitting on the sidewalk. Next to a crooked street sign a pile of hundreds of books block the concrete path, discarded publishing disasters with their covers torn off. The hyper-sensory synaesthetics cause an illusion of this immersive environment followed me beyond the confines of the experience. The greatest effect of this experience was the effect of embodiment, or how we perceive ourselves within our bodies. Unlike the virtual reality spaces we are spending an increasing amount of time in through immersive apps and recent emergence of VR journalism, which create a distancing from immediacy of sensory experience, Bonobo’s set at Output was a heightening of the senses coupled with cultural intimacy, enhancing the immersive experience.
See you on the dancefloor,