Over the years, Pat Metheny has worked in a variety of band and collaborative permutations, including his own popular Pat Metheny Group.
But on his latest album, "Orchestrion," and with the New Orchestrion, the guitarist has become a one-man band.
The New Orchestrion is a self-contained musical instrument — whose origins date back to the 18th century — that blends elements of piano, percussion and even tuned bottles. Metheny plays along and improvises with the construction, using solenoid switches and pneumatics to arrange the five pieces on the album and the live performances.
"When I said, 'OK, I'm gonna try to do this,' literally everybody thought I was out of my mind, including my wife," says Metheny, 55, a 17-time Grammy Award winner. "Nobody really knew what I was talking about, but once I had some instruments on hand and I could demonstrate what I as going to do, the papers that were about to be applied to commit me to the mental institution were rescinded, and I was able to go about my work."
But while it's easy to be dazzled by the oddball technology that is the Orchestrion — think of a player piano on steroids, basically — Metheny says that convention standards still pertain to making music with it.
"Almost everybody that sees it, they ... either start laughing or they're at least smiling — and that's followed very quickly with the realization that the music is pretty hard-core," Metheny explains. "It's difficult music, very serious music. We're talking lots of counterpoint, lost of detailed, complex modulations and lots of polyrhythmic stuff...
"It's not like goofing around here. It's an interesting juxtaposition of something that's got this visual effect but underneath the hood is firing on all eight cylinders."
Pat Metheny performs at 8 p.m. Friday, May 14, at the Music Hall Center, 350 Madison Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $99 and $49.50. Call 313-887-8500 or visit www.musichall.org.
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