Watch Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly And Bryce Dessner Play 'Planetarium' Track 'Mercury' In a Manhattan studio, some of the musicians behind Planetarium play the album's beautiful closing track.

Field Recordings

Watch Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly And Bryce Dessner Play 'Planetarium' Track 'Mercury'

Early on a spring morning in Manhattan, Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly and Nadia Sirota gathered at Reservoir Studios in Manhattan to play a song first performed five years ago and an ocean away.

"Mercury" is the closing track off Planetarium, a song cycle about the planets by Stevens, Dessner, Muhly and James McAlister. The work was originally composed on commission for the Dutch concert hall Muziekgebouw Eindhoven, and first performed there in 2012. Five turns around the sun later, Planetarium will arrive in recorded form on June 9 via 4AD.

"Mercury" is one of the most intimate songs on the record, a quality that's emphasized by its spot just after the 15-minute, ambient, electronic epic, "Earth." Where the record's other songs foreground synthesizers and spastic electric drum samples reminiscent of 2010's The Age of Adz, "Mercury" largely rests on Muhly's gentle piano work and Stevens' beautiful vocal. Where once, in the original live performances, the song swelled to a cinematic rush on the order of Illinois, it's now spare and elegant. Its warm intimacy is all the more apparent in the group's live performance, which features Dessner of The National lightly doubling on guitar Stevens' wordless refrain at the song's close.

Like many of the pieces on the record, its lyrics are a constellation of the cosmic, the personal and the mythological. The song, named for the messenger god, is a perfect musical setting for the feeling of having something dear carried away from you. "All that I've known to be of life / and I am gentle," Stevens sings. "You ran off with it all."

"Life is so abundant here, and yet we're so obsessed with the exterior of here," Stevens told All Songs Considered's Bob Boilen in a companion interview. "That's what's so interesting, there's a sort of beautiful, perfect order to life on earth that's so mysterious and so profound. And yet, as people, we really fuck it up. We're so dysfunctional. And we seek guidance from the exterior world — from the heavens — to help us understand our purpose here, and to sort of create a sense of order."

Stevens, Muhly and Dessner have created their own sense of order here. The musicians will present Planetarium at four shows this summer (all of them terrestrial):

July 10 — Paris, FR — Philharmonie de Paris

July 18 — Brooklyn, NY — Celebrate Brooklyn! – Prospect Park

July 20 — Los Angeles, CA — Hollywood Forever Cemetery

July 21 — Oakland, CA — Fox Theater

You can watch a video of the interview — and listen to the full-length interview — on All Songs Considered.

SET LIST:

  • "Mercury"

CREDITS:

Producers: Bob Boilen, Ben Naddaff-Hafrey; Director: Mito Habe-Evans; Editor: Nickolai Hammar; Violist: Nadia Sirota; Audio Engineering: Daniel Availa, Fritz Myers, Josh Rogosin, James Yost; Videographers: Annabel Edwards, Mito Habe-Evans, Nickolai Hammar; Special Thanks: St. Rose Music; Series Producer: Mito Habe-Evans; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann, Keith Jenkins; Special Thanks: Mark and Rachel Dibner of the Argus Fund

[+] read more[-] less

More From Rock

Thao Nguyen plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Thao Nguyen (Home) Concert

Thao is joined by two cellists in this remarkable set for our Tiny Desk quarantine series.

Nilüfer Yanya plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Nilüfer Yanya (Home) Concert

After performing for us last year, Nilüfer Yanya rejoins the Tiny Desk team from afar, performing three works from her last album and debuting a new song.

Lenny Kravitz plays a Tiny Desk (Home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Lenny Kravitz (Home) Concert

The bohemian rock icon performs a Tiny Desk quarantine concert from his home in the Bahamas.

Chicano Batman plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Chicano Batman (Home) Concert

The Alt.Latino favorite comes together virtually to perform a handful of songs from the band's latest album, Invisible People.

Trupa Trupa plays a Tiny Desk (Home) Concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Trupa Trupa (Home) Concert

The Polish rock band performed a Tiny Desk quarantine concert in Gdańsk basement.

Coreyah plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Coreyah (Home) Concert

The Seoul-based sextet performs music that blends Korean traditional music with modern sounds.

HAIM plays a Tiny Desk (Home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

HAIM (Home) Concert

Although sisters Este, Danielle and Alana are self-quarantining in separate residences, their Tiny Desk set from home is a reminder that California is a state of mind.

Clem Snide with Scott Avett play a Tiny Desk (Home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Clem Snide With Scott Avett (Home) Concert

Clem Snide and Scott Avett play spiritually searching songs from Forever Just Beyond while maintaining social distancing for their Tiny Desk (home) concert.

Frances Quinlan plays a Tiny Desk concert. Kisha Ravi/NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Kisha Ravi/NPR/NPR

Frances Quinlan

The frontwoman of the indie-rock band Hop Along made her second appearance at the Tiny Desk, this time performing songs from her debut solo album.

Back To Top