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A few years ago, the musician Andrew Bird wandered through the canyons of Utah carrying a forest-green backpack and a silver violin case. Beneath a towering stone arch, next to a shallow stream, he removed his shoes and socks and took out his violin. Then he began to strum, bow, and whistle along to the sound of flowing water.
The performance, which was filmed by Tyler Manson, became part of the album Echolocations: Canyon, as well as the 2015 installation Sonic Arboretum at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Now Bird, who’s better known as a folk musician and indie rocker, has made site-specific performance a part of his live tour. On Saturday, a giant video of the violinist lit up the walls of the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York.
During the performance, the real-life Andrew Bird, playing violin on stage, was dwarfed by his own moving image. It made the venue seem cavernous — both because the Capitol Theatre is several stories tall, and because, like a canyon, it’s all curves and no corners. For the sake of acoustics, the ceiling of the theater is an ornate dome, surrounded by sloping walls and sweeping arches.
Bird pays attention to such things. “Ever since I was a child I would test different spaces with my voice or whistle or violin,” Bird said of Echolocations in 2015. “There are certain frequencies that resonate while others are lifeless.” The design of a theater, and the curve of a canyon, creates a distinct acoustic quality. “Each night we ‘tune’ the room.”
With Echolocations, Bird has chosen an apt title: he’s more like a bat than a bird. Bats fly through pitch-black caves by listening to the echo of their own high-pitched sounds — which seems to be Bird’s approach in selecting sites for his performances. “The reflections off the landscape are triggering countless inferences and steering the conversation,” Bird said in 2015.
So far, he’s released two Echolocations albums, and he plans to release at least two more. (Echolocations: River was recorded under the Hyperion Bridge in Los Angeles.) His recent shows are a melodious reminder that the art of performance also requires careful listening — and that music, at its best, can help us find our way in the dark.
Andrew Bird’s tour continues through March 7, with performances in Albany (March 5), Portsmouth, New Hampshire (March 6), and Kingston, New York (March 7).