Eye of the Storm


Left: Gang Gang Dance's Lizzi Bougatsos. (Photo: Camille Acey) Right: Yamataka Eye. (Photo: Frank Hamilton)

“YOU are the 78th member!” explained Boredoms band leader Yamataka Eye in the program notes for 77BOADRUM, a once-in-a-lifetime performance held last Saturday by the Osaka, Japan, noise-rock quartet. “This is because the sound will spiral outwards, from left to right, like DNA, from deep inside of us right out to you. The 77 drum group is one giant instrument, one living creature. The 77 boa-drum will coil like a snake, and transform to become a great dragon!”

The four thousand or so people lucky enough to gain entry to Brooklyn’s Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park were greeted by the sight of a seventy-four-piece drum spiral, radiating out from a center platform on which Eye and his fellow Boredoms—Yo, Yoshimi, and Senju—had erected three drum kits of their own. So: seventy-seven drummers total, on 07/07/07, with the performance set to commence at 7:07 PM and proceed for seventy-seven minutes. Photographers would have seven minutes to snap photos at the outset. Whether this last restriction would help summon the aforementioned great dragon was unclear.

The boa-drum, bordered by the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, seemed a challenge to the dominance of the city skyline. The line for admission, estimated to contain as many as seventeen thousand people—most of whom were turned away—formed a small horde of undaunted youth and Japanophile hipsters, a meandering echo of the adjacent East River.

The unmanned drum circle, viewed from the ground beforehand, looked like a random assemblage of abandoned cymbals and snares, remnants from some ancient civilization of percussionists. The drummers—drawn by musical director Hisham Bharoocha from the thickets of US underground rock, and including, among others, Gastr del Sol’s David Grubbs, Lightning Bolt’s Brian Chippendale, Tim Dewitt and Lizzi Bougatsos of Gang Gang Dance, Spencer Sweeney, and Andrew WK—nervously waited among the crowd. The ensemble’s one rehearsal had taken place earlier in the day; most were depending on a few players, such as Chippendale and Bharoocha, who had been chosen as section leaders. Onlookers included artists Dash Snow and Brendan Fowler, designer Benjamin Cho, and what seemed to be fully half of the city’s remaining summer youth. They sat and drank beer in the late afternoon sun and cast frequent, semi-awed gazes at the vacant stage.

“Drummers, if you’re hearing this, you need to be at your drum sets now.” There was a grade school camaraderie in the run-up to 7:07, an aura of amateur play encouraged by the escalating anxiety in the announcer’s tone: “We remind the audience not to walk into the drum circle while the drummers are playing.”

Eye was the actual seventy-eighth member (or, according to his diagram, the “0th”), the only performer standing above and apart from the drums. He manipulated a bank of multicolored panels, each triggered by an assortment of bright, hollow tubes. At one transcendent moment, Eye raised a seven-foot trident, waving it as a cue for the next movement. Cymbal crashes began at the center platform and spread outward, unfolding into seventy-seven variations on the same sound. When the pattern reached the edge of the spiral, Eye raised his hands, conducting, and a crescendo built. Onlookers joined in, screaming. The performers’ sound reverberated with a deep roar, echoes ricocheting off the Brooklyn Bridge.

Each evolution of the “great dragon” migrated from the center out, the drummers switching over in increments until the tiny alterations grew in mass. The seventy-seven-minute mark came and went, and with the sun setting, the Boredoms relentlessly continued. Given the rarity of the occasion, who could blame them?

When at last the time came, the four bandmates stood and, one by one, so did the rest of the seventy-seven drummers. The crowd then rose, too, accompanied by the bridges’ activating nighttime lights. As the participants and witnesses of 77BOADRUM dispersed, people obeyed the last instruction received before the performance began. “When it’s all over,” the MC had asked, “please hug your drummer.”