By Bob Boilen:
They came, they measured, and they returned to perform a show like no other. It was the great NPR Tiny Desk Takeover by Blue Man Group.
If you’ve not seen this performance ensemble and their production in New York, Las Vegas, Orlando, Boston, Chicago or Berlin, then you’ve missed a night of magical fun. These Blue Men may never say a word, but the performances make for poignant looks at who we are as humans. They also make unusual music on instruments of their own design.
Josh Rogosin, our engineer for the Tiny Desk, first saw them in their early days, some 25 years ago at New York’s Astor Place Theatre. He told me how the Blue Men would retrofit some of their theatrical magic — including their custom-made instruments, confetti cannons and streamers — to fit this small desk space.
Every band that plays the Tiny Desk must work within the restrictions of the space. So instead of installing their entire signature PVC instrument, what ended up behind the desk was about a third of it. On the right side of the desk, their Shred Mill makes its internet debut: It’s a drum machine triggered by magnets that changes rhythm depending where they are placed on the home-made variable-speed conveyor belt. They also invented something called a Spinulum, whose rhythmic tempo is controlled by rotating a wheel that plucks steel guitar strings. (You can read a full description on the instruments below.)
In the end the Blue Men and their dressed-down accompanists performed a Tiny Desk concert like no other. I’ve been familiar with their music since my days as director of All Things Considered in the 1990s, when I would play their tunes between news stories. Seeing all this come to life (and I know this is true for Josh, as well) was simply unforgettable. From the unique sounds of the PVC to the strumming sounds of the Spinulum to their “Meditation For Winners” mantras, you’ll get a taste of why this troupe’s art is so universal and so much fun.