This Friday, Ben Sollee will return to the Rubin for a special acoustic set inspired by the art on display at the Museum. In advance of his show, we asked Ben a few questions about what he’s looking forward to about his performance and where he’s been drawing his inspiration from lately.
Are you excited to perform at the museum?
I’m thrilled to return to the naked soul series. We live in an age where people have so many options to edit, transform, and curate their image digitally. It’s not hard to tune a vocal performance here or touch up the rhythm there. But, there’s still something about a quiet room, an acoustic performance, and a receptive audience that make me tingle a bit. There’s nowhere to hide and, maybe more importantly, no expectation to do so.
Is there a theme you plan to explore?
I’d like to explore the theme listening. Lately, I feel like everyone’s talking at the same time and few are listening. It’s not a new challenge of course and I’d be curious to explore the museum’s art that touches on this concept, internally and as a society.
How would you describe your performance style?
I still get excited when I hear sound come out of a cello. I’m still quite in awe of the mechanics of how the instrument and the voice work together. It’s my hope that the audience can feel that genuine excitement and, along with the stories I tell, connect deeply with the music.
What are your inspirations when it comes to your music?
More and more, I’m looking to nature for inspiration. Often, I think we overlook nature as benign, irrelevant, out-of-date. But as we discover what questions to ask like, “Do the trees care for each other?” we learn that nature is subtle, impressive and hi-tech. I spend my free-listening time these days listening to a lot of nature recordings. I especially love the work of nature recordist Bernie Krause.
Outside of nature and music, dance is probably my next biggest influence. The work of Pina Bausch and Merce Cunningham are really moving, and contemporary choreographers such as Crystal Pite just blow me away. I always want to make music when I see good dance.
What makes the Rubin Museum a good fit for your music?
The Rubin is a serene place to connect with other humans. Some are ancient beings, others are recent people who are trying to figure out their place on this planet. That pretty much sums up my music.
What artwork from our collection appeals to you?
I love this painting of The Goddess of Long Life. It makes me think of the discussion we are beginning to have about our personal data as we pass on. What will be forgotten? What will remain? There are no rules and for the first time, truly, we could live well beyond our bodies. But what to do with all that time?
And finally, what can visitors expect from your performance?
Visitors can expect a cello and voice performance that is, at times, meditative and in moment raucous. The music is rooted in my Kentucky home but embraces the sounds and styles from cultures that I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with in my travels.
See Ben Sollee live at the Rubin on Friday, March 3.