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A Pumpkin's sonic impressions

Billy Corgan "Sunday with Rumi"
Madame ZuZu's Tea Shop and Art Studio
Highland Park, IL
Sunday, March 30, 2014
Billy Corgan Billy Corgan

Story and photos by Holiday Girod

Last Sunday afternoon Billy Corgan performed four "sonic impressions" on the poetry of the 13th century Sufi mystic Rumi at his Highland Park teashop. More of a public art experiment than a concert, fans and curiosity seekers came out for a free invitation to witness Smashing Pumpkins' fountainhead twiddle knobs and plug in dozens of various wires into the massive wall of modular synthesizers for nearly four-hours. The results, which can be heard in the video below, were far from awe inspiring and even downright boring to some in the room who left after not too long. Yet at times - especially over the course of time - these free-form sound experiments set over the repetitive readings of Rumi's poems became meditative and almost transcendental, even despite a few incorrectly patched cords which sent ear-shattering blasts of dissonance through the room like a bull in a ...well, teashop.

This event followed Corgan's previous public performance last month at Madam ZuZu's which was in a similar sonic vein, only that musical interpretation of Hermann Hesse's novel "Siddhartha" was a lengthy eight-plus hours, which left many fans scratching their heads and gave critics a field day to belittle the direction of Billy's newfound creative outlet.

What most people failed to realize is that these two performances weren't a music concert in any stretch of the imagination. It was a piece of sonic art being created on-the-fly and held for free in Billy's "living room." Sonically the sounds were intended to just be there - whether people stayed for the duration, came and went, or loved or loathed it. And while the bleeps, blips and drones that emanated from the speakers may have sounded like anyone in the room could have generated them (which doubtfully any really could), Corgan stood stoically with his back to the small group of people and concentrated on which plug should go into which input like a tunnel-visioned scientist trying to rewrite the theory of relativity.

Too arty and pretentious, you say? Perhaps. But no more so than, say, Brian Eno's foray into ambient music after leaving Roxy Music, or Lou Reed's infamous 1975 double album of modulated guitar feedback, which, despite sounding like exactly what it was - a wall of cacophonous noise - renowned music critic Lester Bangs famously, and possibly tongue-in-cheek, wrote that it was "the greatest record ever made in the history of the human eardrum." Now that may be a stretch of the imagination, but it only goes to prove that what is considered true art is in the eye, and ear, of the beholder. And while many may not have grasped all of Corgan's creative intentions last Sunday, there were at least a few hunkered down for the duration of the performance that did, indeed, witness true art.

Related articles:

Smashing Pumpkins / Anberlin Concert review - Rosemont, IL October 2012
Smashing Pumpkins Concert review - New York, NY - Nov. 2008
Smashing Pumpkins (Voodoo Music Experience 2007) - Festival review - New Orleans, LA - Oct. 2007
Smashing Pumpkins - Zeitgeist - Album review - Aug. 2007
(Rotten Apples) The Smashing Pumpkins Greatest Hits - Album review - Dec. 2001
Smashing Pumpkins - Machina II / the friends and enemies of modern music - Album review - Sept. 2000
Smashing Pumpkins - Concert review - Milwaukee, WI - Apr. 2000
Smashing Pumpkins - Concert review - Milwaukee, WI - July 1998
Billy Corgan - Concert review - Chicago, IL - April 2004
Zwan - Concert review - Chicago, IL - January 2003
Zwan, The Strokes and Tenacious D - Concert review - Tinley Park, IL - May 2002
Zwan - Concert review - Chicago, IL - April 2002

Billy Corgan

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