Moto Spirits, a chic Brooklyn whiskey distillery, mixes a garage with the look of a sleek bar. Underneath a white ceiling, a row of motorcycles lines the room’s back wall, parked on top of concrete floors and nestled amongst clean, white furniture and exposed brick. On February 25, a full audience sat on an assortment of wooden barrels, benches, and chairs, ready to watch a night of improvisation by The Moving Orchestra.
Since their founding in 2019, The Moving Orchestra has regularly strayed from conventional concert settings. The New York-based group improvises across mediums—primarily featuring music, dance, fashion, and light design. Their concerts have popped up at a variety of different locations across the city, from warehouse art studios to apartments. Playing at a bar provided new avenues for exploration.
This evening was a partnership with the event organization Groupmuse, which is a platform that organizes chamber music concerts in intimate venues. The concert’s theme was synaesthesia: The Moving Orchestra wanted to see if they could interpret different senses through other mediums, like making music inspired by taste or light. The ensemble has a fluid roster, but usually comprises a group of musicians and dancers. At Moto Spirits, the group included: Joey Chang on keyboard and synthesizer, Katherine Kyu Hyeon Lim on violin, Dave Adewumi on trumpet, Hillary Bonhomme on voice and electronics, and Zack Gonder dancing. The evening consisted of four original works composed and improvised by the ensemble and a piece that the ensemble and audience played together.
The Moving Orchestra opened the evening with a flowing group improvisation (“Light Improvisation”), in which each member of the group swapped solos with each other. Colored lights changed from lime green to red to pink as the mood of the music flip-flopped. This improvisation was an evening highlight: Here, we got to hear and see each artist’s individual style, from Adewumi’s resonant, jazzy runs to Lim’s lush, melodic violin to Bonhomme’s delicate, airy singing voice.
Another evening highlight was “Umami,” a raucous piece led by Adewumi. He wanted to put the feeling of losing and slowly regaining taste while recovering from COVID-19 into music. The loosely improvised piece moved through three sections: The first, a forlorn feeling of loss of taste, the second, a chaotic, winding journey back, and the third, an uncertain return. The ensemble was clearly having fun as they improvised through each section, bursting from a suspended-in-time stillness to vigorous pandemonium and back again. While the subject matter was serious, there was a hint of lightheartedness to the piece; the audience laughed with the ensemble as they tried absurd motions and sounds. It was here where the group’s commitment to making art that celebrates the joy of collaboration and exploration came to the fore.
The fun continued after “Umami” and a chatty intermission into the final piece of the concert, which featured The Moving Orchestra and the audience making music together. Lim, who acted as the conductor, split the audience into different sections, each led by one of the ensemble members. Sections did things like sing, bang on their barrel chairs, and tap their bodies. For a while, that was the only music in the room, but after a bit of time the ensemble went back to playing melodies with their musical instruments and dancing. The majority of the audience participated, and most of them were pretty giddy to do so. That enthusiasm carried the performance.
With every concert, The Moving Orchestra combines lightness with their passion for complex improvisation, making experiences that feel both musically illuminating and human. But the best part of their concert at Moto Spirits was how much they made it feel like anyone could make music. Many of the musicians of The Moving Orchestra are trained at conservatories like The Juilliard School. But at Moto Spirits, it didn’t matter how good you were at music to be there and there was no separation between artists and audience. The joy of appreciating art was all that mattered.