Bang on a Can is a collective of composers and musicians who, since 1987, have been writing and performing avantgard/experimental/new music. Their approach somehow speaks to a more “ordinary” and less “niche” audience and so, to some extent, they have succeeded in reaching larger audiences where others might have failed (or, depending on who you ask and where you stand, might have deliberately chosen to keep it a bit less accessible to filter out the casual listener from the really dedicated and interested followers).
The Bang on a Can marathon is a 12 hour concert (from noon to midnight) which takes place every year and presents pieces from a number of experimental music composers performed by musicians from anywhere around the world.
I’ve stayed for about 4 of the 12 hours and in that time caught Buke and Gass (a vocal+guitars duo with foot-operated tambourine and bass drum who played some interesting stuff and had a very powerful sound); german piano player Moritz Eggert (who played a few of his compositions based on falling fourths and fifths which were interesting in concept but at times felt a bit forced in their presentation); dutch performer Slagwerk Den Haag (four people writing and drawing with chalk on four amplified blackboards – see picture); Vernon Reid (who presented a piece based on the recordings of voices of some of the last people born in slavery – accompanied by Mazz Swift on violin and Leon Gruenbaum on Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeeee); Bang on a Can All-Stars themselves (performing a pretty powerful composition by Kate Moore – see picture); Mira Calix (doing some live laptop improvisation); Kyrgyzstan-based players (playing traditional pieces on traditional instruments); french upright bass player Florent Ghys (who performed a nice piece on his double bass playing along with two or three tracks of himself from a laptop and a video in sync with his playing – see picture); Burkina Electric (which consisted of three dancer/singers and a guitarist from Burkina Faso accompanied by two american composers/performers on electronics, mallets and drums; – the musical results were not always as interesting as the authentic dancing and singing); and finally the ensemble called “Signal” conducted by Brad Lubman who performed the BAM-commissioned piece “Shelter” in seven movements. Composed by the Bang on a Can founders Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe, this piece reminded me at times of Glass, at times of JG Thirwell, at times of Zorn… I thought it lost some steam in the middle but I really enjoyed the last and the first two movements, especially the second one, my favorite; the piece featured a libretto sang by three great singers and some film projections by Bill Morrison and Laurie Olinder (for the video too, I thought the first and last movements were the most interesting).
Very interesting event all in all. I wonder how many people stayed for the whole thing, but it’s definitely an interesting event and it’s great that it is free, which further lowers the barrier of entry if you are trying to bring this music to the masses. I still prefer to see this kind of music in the quiet and dedicated confines of the Stone, but nevertheless I enjoyed it.