It’s 9:00 o’clock on a Tuesday night as the regular crowd of hipsters, stoners, and musically exploratory individuals shuffle out of the early show at the 9:30 Club. There is a buzz about this crowd- they haven’t been sardine-packed with thousands of sweating and swaying teeny-boppers that habitually plague one of D.C.’s most frequented concert venues. Instead, they were treated to 90 minutes of pure audio-bliss. The Books, along with virtuosic guest violinist Todd Reynolds, have just left the stage after a stellar rendition of some of their electronic, sample-ridden repertoire.
A Books’ concert is a true sensory experience. Not only have they mastered the art of electronic composing, live performance, and video editing, they have also done so without taking themselves too seriously. The band is constantly joking with each other and the crowd, keeping the atmosphere serious but informal. In return, the audience, for the first time in my experience at the 9:30 Club, is void of screamers and song-requesters. The elder-member of the duo, Dutch cellist Paul de Jong, speaks in an accented drone – if he speaks at all – a style that is mimicked by Reynolds, which is a significant departure from his normally talkative and jovial demeanor.
All quirkiness aside, The Books have managed to revitalize the craft of a quiet, classy performance that doesn’t dry out. Most of their music is performed with alongside the accompaniment of a pre-recorded track. Now, I was admittedly skeptical about this tactic. How much talent can that show, after all? Apparently, a lot. Along with their audio tracks, The Books edit videos for each of their compositions that beautifully capture the essence of each piece, whether marveling at the universe or creating goofy wordplay. As was explained by guitarist Nick Zammuto during the show, the videos are edited to be played back at a very specific frame rate that synchronizes them perfectly with the beats per minute of the music.
Despite the impressiveness of their recorded and performed elements, not to mention their immense musical talent, there is something else about The Books that stands out as particularly remarkable: their sound placement. Every piece contains hundreds – if not thousands – of different samples. Each one has to be placed perfectly, as do their live-instrument sounds, to create a distinctive and unrivaled musical experience. In doing this, The Books are constantly toeing the line between what should be considered art and what should be regarded as rubbish.
The fine line between music and noise is constantly being blurred, especially these days, and The Books operate and thrive by successfully staying on the beautiful and creative musical side of that ever-thinning boundary.