Classical meets electronic

POLI A and stargaze persevere through the 'Long Emergency'

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NORTH ADAMS — The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art's old industrial buildings are reminders of capitalism's triumphs and pitfalls, of the lives it can uphold and upend.

A collaborative work arriving at the North Adams institution's Hunter Center on Thursday, Feb. 15, explores the potential for the latter outcome through political disruption. Synth-heavy pop group POLI A and Berlin, Germany-based orchestral collective stargaze (officially s t a r g a z e) will perform songs off of their new album, "Music for the Long Emergency," which will be released the day after the show. POLI A frontwoman Channy Leaneagh, who wrote the record's lyrics, said the futitle pertains to conversations her band has been having for the last five years about living in a post-capitalist society.

"Not everybody's like this for sure, but I have the tendency to be pretty dramatic and feel really hopeless and helpless in times [when] it seems that you're watching the place where, ...even if you never agreed with the way the government's worked in the past, [you] can see it unraveling. And you're terrified for the people around you and your community," Leaneagh told The Eagle during a telephone interview on Monday. "And I tend to go to the extreme of thinking of all the possibilities: We are the next Roman Empire, or ... it's our turn to dissolve into history as another failed nation. So, instead, I'm trying to work myself through that and not give up, and not be fragile."

This sense of both fear and perseverance is at the fore in "How Is This Happening," the album's 10-minute single that Leaneagh wrote the day after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016. During the first half of the track, Leaneagh repeats the phrases, "I can't breathe" and "resisting him, resisting us." She also asserts, "I'll fight until my days are done." The second half of the song contains a flourish of stargaze strings, amplifying Leaneagh's already poignant lyrics. The rest of the record isn't focused on the election, but still retains the quality of enduring through tragedy.

POLI A, a Minneapolis-based band that was founded in 2011 and has released three albums, met stargaze in 2016 at stargaze conductor Andr de Ridder's Berlin home. Subsequently, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music Series helped the groups remain in contact from afar and, ultimately, produce the seven-track record. While classically trained stargaze and thoroughly electronic POLI A might appear to have little in common, Leaneagh said the groups share at least one trait.

"I think there [are] as many different kinds of bands as there are stars in the sky, but we operate similarly in the lack of hierarchy," she said.

Essentially, all of the groups' members are free to make suggestions and help shape their music in real time, ensuring that the sounds of both POLI A and stargaze will be represented.

"It wasn't an unfamiliar idea to ... be collaging and piecing ideas together and then forming a whole song together, talking through it," Leaneagh said of the groups' mentalities. "... There isn't somebody that already wrote the song, and we're supposed to just sing it and follow our directions. It's about creating music for the joy of it, even amongst the failures. It's part of the process."

POLI A has five members, including producer Ryan Olson. Stargaze's composition is more fluid.

"Its members are malleable. Sometimes, all of a sudden, one of their violin players will need to go do another project, so we might even be playing with some people that we haven't played with before," Leaneagh said of the group's Mass MoCA performance, guessing that stargaze would have about eight people on stage.

In addition to playing the songs on "Music for the Long Emergency," the groups will spend several days leading up to the show in residence at the museum, learning a new piece by composer Daniel Wohl that they will play to begin the concert.

"We're really grateful for a place like Mass MoCA to bring us because this project isn't necessarily something that a lot of clubs want to bring," Leaneagh said, "and Mass MoCA is giving us the opportunity to practice some of this new material and then try it out."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.




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