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Arca’s Park Avenue Armory Spooktacular

In "Mutant;Destrudo," the experimental pop musician makes her own world in the Gothic Upper East Side landmark.

Arca performs “Mutant;Destrudo” at Park Avenue Armory. (Hell Gate)

On Thursday night, the musician Arca was surrounded by a fleet of lights and technicians, who made her a cross-shaped stage in the expanse of the Wade Thompson Drill Hall of the Park Avenue Armory on the Upper East Side.

In her new, 2-hour long high-tech show commissioned by the Armory, "Mutant;Destrudo," Arca first appears suddenly, on a balcony looking like Evita, wearing a glittering leotard and unleashing her smoky, operatic soprano. Afterwards, she disappears for awhile and re-emerges from behind the audience, then springs up onto a catwalk and grasps a trapeze ring and a skeletal arm and starts singing. Behind her, on a large screen, her live image is projected before a post-apocalyptic collage of BMWs and dead insects, ugly textures and aquatic-looking things that hardly have a form that can be described.

What initially felt like gratuitous pacing was actually due to a technical malfunction, which is a relief, because I found this first half dazzling but not moving. It was certainly a spectacle, consisting of dirges that stretch on and on until they sound like, I don't know, take your metaphorical pick: a glacier leaving its mother, the end of the age of Pisces, the thoughts of EVA-01 as the last being, alone in the universe after the stars explode?

Arca is the stage name of 33-year-old Alejandra Ghersi (she'll turn 34 tomorrow, actually), an electronic pop musician, a former NYU student, the daughter of a Venezuelan investment banker, and disciple of Bjorkian aesthetic extremism. Her most recent release, a cycle of four albums titled "Kick ii-iiiii," ranges from pop penned by Sia to abstract electronic experiments. Mutant;Destrudo follows her 2019 production at the Shed, “Mutant;Faith."

At the Armory, a flock of assistants comes to strap her into some machine that had previously been looming under plastic wrap. It's a camera, it turns out, which gives a close up over her face, as she's hooked into "Matrix"-like wires as she’s rapping rapidly in Spanish over a dembow beat and making orgasmic faces while some AI tool morphs her features into a spooky witch.

Now that "Mutant;Destrudo" has achieved some urgency, and Arca steps out onto the floor with the audience and, without needing to be told, we in the crowd follow her around the cavernous hall like her flock, she struts through and parts us like water. Back on the catwalk, she's flipping with light switch speed between that soprano and a rumbling bass voice, and then playing a grand piano hooked up to magnets that vibrate the strings into sounds like a chirping bird or a basketball court full of sneakers. 

By the end, the magma of the new planet Arca, born through those earlier dirges, has cooled and coalesced into a Harlem ballroom. Now the tempos are familiar and it's time for the bops. At first, I thought it was funny—you've just spent an hour lulling us into a stupor! You've used all these projections and props to conjure and immerse us into your cybernetic world that defies our expectations of time and form, and now you expect us to know how to dance in it? But she did, and somehow we did. "Mutant;Destrudo" is long, and indulgent, but in its best moments it elevates a concert experience to something more like a trance.

"Mutant;Destrudo" runs through Sunday October 15, tickets are $60 not including fees for general admission, $54 not including fees for armory members.

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