Body/Head — Image via

Body/Head at the MIA

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts kicked off its new contemporary music series, Sound.Art.MIA, on Thursday with a performance by Body/Head, the electric guitar duo of longtime Sonic Youth member Kim Gordon and fellow noise aficionado Bill Nace. Held in the museum’s reception hall with local experimental banjo virtuoso Paul Metzger opening, the concert made for a promising start to the series, offering two distinct takes on the possibilities of long-form, visceral music-making.

Paul Metzger — Image via paulmetzger.netMetzger’s 23-string banjo, as modified by the artist, is really one part banjo, one part Hindustani sarod, and one part something completely original. His set on Thursday consisted of one long, continuous improvisation. Toward the beginning and end of the piece, Metzger played his instrument with a bow, while the middle section was dominated by plucking and some percussive slapping. The music, predominantly modal throughout, incorporated hints of classical South Asian and Middle Eastern music, American fingerstyle folk guitar, and experimental rock. Sometimes sparse and meditative, sometimes driving and aggressive, Metzger’s set had a consistent searching quality that added up to an ear-opening experience for the audience.

Body/Head’s recently released debut album, Coming Apart, puts the spotlight on Gordon’s vocals, with heady lyrics inspired by feminist theory and the films of Catherine Breillat. Thursday’s performance, on the other hand, was dominated by two long, improvisational pieces in which Gordon’s chantlike singing and occasional eerie contributions on harmonica played a supporting role to the room-filling sound of her and Nace’s intertwining guitars. Each of these pieces took shape slowly, with gestures being given room to develop and settle into place before something new entered the picture, always held together by an often-subtle underlying pulse. Occasionally, gentler and more spacious moods would take hold, but dissonant, noisy slabs of sound were the order of the day, often building to powerful climaxes. The third, last and shortest piece — “Abstract,” the opening track from Coming Apart — was a little less insistent, with a more prominent role for Gordon’s vocals.

Another integral element of the Body/Head experience was the video that was projected above the stage, featuring a number of director Richard Kern’s music videos for Coming Apart strung together into a loose narrative about a man and a woman gradually making their way toward each other, mediated by the lens of the man’s camera. Undoubtedly inspiring some post-concert discussions of the male gaze, the video meshed well with the music, knitting the three pieces into a coherent whole.

In the wake of Sonic Youth’s sudden breakup in 2011, it is reassuring to hear Gordon moving forward with something new, different, and ultimately more adventurous than most of what her former band had been doing for a while. Metzger’s opening set complemented Body/Head’s excellently, with a similar mentality but a very different sound. The MIA has not announced what will come next in the Sound.Art.MIA series, but if Thursday’s concert was any indication, it will be something to look forward to.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.