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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dan Deacon To Resonate at the Exploratorium Tomorrow

Posted By on Wed, Dec 10, 2014 at 8:34 AM

click to enlarge Dan Deacon - SHAWN BRACKBILL
  • Shawn Brackbill
  • Dan Deacon
Dan Deacon released a video teaser this week for his new album, coming out in February. Amid a frenetic tumble of sound, the camera leaps around Deacon’s Baltimore studio, catching glimpses of his flickering laptop, a rack of electronics, monitors, effects, Deacon with headphones furiously playing a guitar, a sound board, a snatch of the cartoon-colored mural which stayed up after the former Hexagon Space closed, brick walls, flashes of psychedelic geometry, the keys of Deacon’s prized Disklavier — a midi-controllable player piano — leaping erratically, peg boards draped with coiled cords, Deacon’s mad-scientist face lit by the cool-blue screen glow, photographs of alien landscapes, an alleyway seen through dirty glass, distortions of color, shadow, and form, Deacon hunched over a row of devices wrapped in brightly colored duct tape.

Then, just as our brain begins to adjust to the quick-cuts, the half-gleaned images; just as our blood begins to vibrate in synch with Deacon’s fluttering rhythms and preternatural tones, a pale hand enters the frame and turns off the camera mid-track, mid-barrage. From all to nothing, in a click.

It’s a good teaser, an intimate view of the lab where Deacon gives life to his electro-acoustic creations. It’s not surprising that the studio is so unlike the slick, shiny, glass-encased rooms we are taught to expect, and more like a traditional artist’s studio, or a pawn shop. This is the studio where Deacon shot a video version of Operator – the children’s game where one kid whispers a phrase into the next kid’s ear, and on down the line until the phrase has morphed into something ridiculous – to accompany his dreamy pop confection “True Thrush” from 2012’s America. It is also where he composed the epic orchestral suite of songs that close out that record. 
Deacon is the second artist to appear in this season of the Exploratorium’s Resonance series, which has featured everything from music made from penguin bones and the unique spectrum of star light to the jazz innovations of Roscoe Mitchell. He'll perform at 7 p.m. this Thursday, Dec. 11.

“I would say, selfishly, I pick artists that I really like,” says Resonance curator Wayne Grim. “More importantly for the Exploratorium, I choose artists that I know will want to push the limits of their craft.”

Each session of “Resonance” begins with an interview conducted by Sarah Cahill, the mind-expanding host of KALW’s “Revolutions Per Minute,” followed by a full artist’s set utilizing a state-of-the-art 72-channel Meyer Sound Constellation system. Deacon’s performance is partly inspired by the reclusive composer Conlon Nancarrow, who was
among the first to use player pianos to write music beyond the reach of human fingers, and built up around the Disklavier. Fans of the warm frothy hilarity of 2007’s Spiderman of the Rings should not be overly concerned. While Deacon has certainly earned the rightful attention of folks better-versed in Steve Reich than Ween, it should not be forgotten that just weeks after Deacon appeared at Carnegie Hall for John Cage’s 100 year birthday celebration, he was down at an Occupy rally leading an interpretive dance.

In fact, last fall, the first snippets we heard from Deacon’s upcoming album came from an underground parking structure in Minneapolis, where Deacon provided similar dance “instruction” to a group of ecstatic kids during Doug Aitken’s “Station to Station” art train tour.

Deacon performed on the floor as usual, amidst the crowd, pitch-shifted muskrat vocals and xylophone solos bouncing off the kids’ high-beam smiles, as his own body jerked convulsively to the carbonated beat. We’ve been waiting with giddy enthusiasm ever since. Because, whether Deacon’s featured on NPR or Pitchfork, whether he’s invited to perform with Arcade Fire or the Calder Quartet, he remains the goofy electric genius of the Wham City collective, owner of the vegetable-powered “vantastic,” lover of shared experience, expansive aural vistas, and group glee. And we’re damn glad there are no limitations to his reach.

Dan Deacon performs at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 11, at the Exploratorium, Pier 15 (between Embarcadero and Green St.), S.F. Tickets are $25 and include museum admission; call 528-4444 or visit
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