It seems appropriate and perhaps even inevitable that the musician/writer Julian Koster would explore the world of radio theater as a mode of storytelling and multimedia composition. The leader of the lo-fi, cinematic outfit the Music Tapes, Koster is best-known – permanently known – as an Elephant 6 Records scenester and a core member of the Elephant 6 flagship band Neutral Milk Hotel, whose 1998 classic In an Aeroplane over the Sea stands as the touchstone of ecstatic, Dionysian indie folk/rock in this era of ecstatic, Dionysian indie folk/rock.
Koster didn’t write or sing the tunes on that wonderful, mystical record (that would be Jeff Mangum, of course), but he was maybe the most recognizable instrumental voice in the psychedelic ragamuffin street-band din that backs Mangum and frequently overtakes him in the long, fuzzy freakout jams that account for more of that record’s 40 minutes than many of its canonizers would like to admit. Koster’s axe of choice is a saw: the singing saw, an over-the-counter actual saw manipulated by bending to produce a quavering and approximate pitched tone that sounds somewhat like a pastoral Theremin. In the entire arsenal of musical novelty, what sound seems a more direct bridge to audio theater than the sad and ghostly swoop of the singing saw?
With The Orbiting Human Circus, Koster makes the leap into a stylized, vaguely retro mode of audio-theater storytelling. The multipart podcast series – picked up by the sympathetic Night Vale Presents network – tells the story of a surreal radio variety show that takes place atop the Eiffel Tower, and centers on the figure of a lonely janitor, played by Koster himself. The series has both podcast and live-show incarnations.
The Orbiting Human Circus featuring Julian Koster and the Music Tapes visits BSP in Kingston on Wednesday, November 9 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Advance tickets may be purchased online (visit www.bspkingston.com) and are also available locally (cash only, no fees) at Outdated and Rocket Number Nine Records in Kingston, Darkside Records in Poughkeepsie, Jack’s Rhythms in New Paltz and the Woodstock Music Shop in both its Woodstock and Kingston locations. BSP is located at 323 Wall Street in Kingston.