Stephin Merritt: Off Broadway With Coraline

stephin-merritt1Stephen Merritt can’t stand still.  The amount of projects he’s principled in the last 18 years are too numerous to recollect off the top of one’s head.  He’s created some of modern pop’s most memorable moments – the most noteableThe Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs, made him a reluctant icon.  The album celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.  The memorable 3CD set was a benchmark for the wider acceptance of independent pop music.  For me, my favorite Stephin Merritt songs were from the first 6ths album, Wasps Nest, and Future Bible Heroes’ Memories of Love.  Those were both filled with a lot of female vocals which perhaps subconciously added another level to his lyrics for me. 

Some of Merritt’s recent work has been collaborative.  The album, Showtunes, compiles three pieces from his work with legendary Opera director turned filmmaker Chen Shi-Zheng.  A little further back he soundtracked the films Pieces of April and the touchy Eban and Charley.  The most recent Magnetic Fields album is collaborative as well; on 2008’s Distortion, Merritt meshes his songwriting style over what will go down as one of the most memorable tributes to The Jesus and Mary Chain‘s Psychocandy.

Beginning May 7th, Stephen Merritt’s newest collaboration will be with a young girl named Coraline.  The performance, based on the 2002 book by Neil Gaiman, contains creepy, playful music and (unsurprisingly) droll lyrics from Merritt.  Most recently made into a film, Coraline  is the tale of a lonely girl who is given an opportunity to lead a seemingly better version of her life in a world through a tunnel she finds in her new family home.  The story, which has been compared to Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland will be accompanied by a small, three piece piano “orchestra” and vocals.  A proper piano, a toy piano and a “prepared piano” which Merritt describes as taking an ordinary baby grand piano placing rubber and metal in between the strings.  “We’re also using extended piano playing, such as scraping the strings with a garden claw, rubbing the strings with a metal brush and bowing one of the strings with fishing wire – it sounds like an entire junkyard playing at the same time,” he adds. 

There’s no doubt that Merritt’s trademark layered, yet simple approach will be noticeable with such a small amount of instruments to choose from.  You can hear some samples for yourself, here.  Coraline begins on May 7th and continues through June 20th at the MCC Theater (@ Lucille Lortel Theatre at 121 Christopher Street in New York City), with Opening Night set for June 1st.  It all sounds like an creepy, fun time – check out the MCC Theater site for ticket information.