Magazine article The New Yorker

Waiting for Pharrell

Magazine article The New Yorker

Waiting for Pharrell

Article excerpt


Pharrell Williams, the pop and hip-hop multi-hyphenate with the big hat, once sketched out his daily routine for a reporter: he wakes at nine (without an alarm), thanks God, and then brainstorms while taking a long shower. Often, all this showering makes Pharrell late. He is known for it. The other day, in the Long Island City studio of the artist Daniel Arsham, a crowd of people were waiting for Pharrell. He was supposed to arrive at two-thirty.

Arsham and the choreographer Jonah Bokaer, his frequent collaborator, sat facing three computers. Overhead dangled a cloud made of Ping-Pong balls. The men were piecing together a new dance, "Rules of the Game," which premiered at the Soluna Festival, in Dallas, and will be performed at BAM's Next Wave Festival, in Brooklyn, this fall. Arsham was contributing scenography, and Pharrell was writing the score, to be adapted, for orchestra, by David Campbell. One screen showed dancers rehearsing, another Campbell's audio files; on the third was Arsham's video backdrop--rose-quartz casts of basketballs, microphones, and body parts being shattered in slow motion.

Drumming his fingers on Arsham's forearm, Bokaer said, "We're trying to find new ways to address these unusual rhythms, because that's really what this composer's known for--his beats." He went on, "There's so much attack in the music, and so I thought, Well, maybe we have them attack each other." The dancers onscreen lunged and dodged.

Back in 2013, Arsham took a Casio keyboard that Pharrell had played as a child and cast it in volcanic ash; later, he cast the singer's entire body. When he floated the idea of teaming up again for "Rules of the Game," Pharrell was intrigued. "He's never worked on anything related to dance in this way," said Arsham, who wore silver-rimmed glasses and a military jacket over a black hoodie. He added, "I mean, he certainly knows how to dance."

Arsham's phone buzzed. He scanned a text and said, "I think they're here--fifteen minutes." It was three-thirty. He noted, "Pharrell's only an hour late--that's miraculous."

Onstage, the dancers will have real basketballs painted to look like the sculptures in the video. Arsham asked Bokaer, "Do the balls bounce ever?"

"Well, the live symphony is a little concerned about bouncing balls," Bokaer, who had on a T-shirt that said "Feel Good! …

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