The Deep Listening Band performing at the Bang On a Can Marathon last Sunday (L to R: Stuart Dempster, conch; Brian Pertl, dung chen Tibetan horn; Pauline Oliveros, conch; Photo courtesy of Tom Steenland)
in cooperation with River To River Festival
2012 Bang On a Can Marathon
Winter Garden at World Financial Center, NYC
Sunday, June 17th, 2012
Written by me
Dither (the all-guitar ensemble featuring Taylor Levine, James Moore, Gyan Riley, Grey McMurray, and Josh Lopes) were the very first people to play at this marathon, and the piece they did (Lois V. Vierk‘s “Go Guitars”) was a very Jandek-like detuned dirge that proceeded to make the 2 elderly women sitting next to me get up and leave. At least I knew I was at the right concert.
This is not a review, per se. I had no real plans to cover this event with any kind of extensive blogging or descriptive reviews, but, even though I was only there for 8 of the 12 hours (Ugh! Long story why I couldn’t be there for all of it–Don’t get me started!), there’s so much beauty to observe, that I can’t not write something.
When I wrote about the 2011 Bang marathon, I had just started blogging six months earlier, and I was there volunteering for Bang On a Can at the merch table, where we only peripherally were able to experience the music, and even then, I felt strongly enough to talk about the Asphalt Orchestra making such a grand entrance into the Winter Garden and playing Frank Zappa’s “Zomby Woof” in the middle of the hall near the big stairs; to talk about Philip Glass making a special appearance and playing with the All-Stars, and some guy picking that moment to come to me and complain about why he doesn’t get Philip Glass; to talk about Glass himself also coming to the merch table to sign CDs; to talk about how cool it was to hear Sun Ra Arkestra; to be approached by Ashley Bathgate‘s dad in line at Starbucks because he saw I had a Bang On a Can T-shirt on and talked to me about his daughter the cellist, who, by the way, was back this year and played brilliantly in a solo performance of a Daniel Wohl piece–“Saint Arc”, as well as several sets with the All-Stars and a performance with her TwoSense partner Lisa Moore (Pictured left, TwoSense; photo courtesy of Tom Steenland).
When I was there the previous year, I wasn’t writing at all, but I probably would have blogged up a storm after I was treated to my very first impression ever of Evan Ziporyn wearing his exotic Gamelan Galak Tika wardrobe when he came over to the merch table (At that point I’d never even seen GGT, so you can imagine what that impression was).
I guess every year the marathons are going to have their own memories and their own individual identities, and the 2012 marathon will be remembered for the year they brought Alvin Lucier (pictured right; courtesy of Glenn Cornett) to the Winter Garden to be seated at the stage to recreate his “I am sitting in a room” experiment with the aid of an upgraded audio technique courtesy of James Fei. When Michael Gordon introduced him, he requested that the audience stay silent if they were to be inside the hall for the piece, but I knew that the activity outside the hall and/or the normally freewill atmosphere of the marathon would somehow prevent that from happening as there were still random things like babies screaming and people using an ATM machine that beeped like crazy (Almost gave the piece the unintentional sound of over-indulgence of experimentalism).
When the 30-minute piece concluded, Lucier was given a standing ovation. I sincerely doubt that he envisioned performing this piece live in front of an audience and getting that kind of reception when he recorded the piece in 1969.
Of course, the strangest thing for me was that in the crowd off to the side, I saw a young couple making out during Lucier’s piece. At that time, I was thinking they did this just so they could tell their friends and family for generations “That was our song!”.
The other legendary figures of contemporary music that made guest appearances this year were Steve Reich (whom I did see walk into the hall and a hushed excitement came over me, but sadly I did not get to hear his “Six Pianos” performed by the Grand Band) and Pauline Oliveros, who herself performed as part of the Deep Listening Band, and together they played the pieces “Land of Snows” (Oliveros and Stuart Dempster on conch shells and Brian Pertl playing the Tibetan horn; pictured above) and “From Now On” (all three voice only). It truly seemed to me what I would describe as earth music–music that feels like its atmosphere is at a plain that only the universe can bring you to, but unfortunately it was not easy to feel that from the open-endedness nature of the marathon. It may have a stronger impact in a more exclusive place for the kind of performance it deserves.
I did get to see the first of the 2 performances by the Grand Band. Seeming as if they are new music’s answer to the 5 Browns, the 6 pianists (Lisa Moore, Vicky Chow, David Friend, Paul Kerekes, Blair McMillen and Isabelle O’Connell; photo left courtesy of Glenn Cornett) are a supergroup of soloists that played what sounded kind of like classical pop-crossover meets post-minimal as they performed the Julia Wolfe piece “my lips from speaking”. The moment of the piece that is most memorable is the inclusion of the theme used as an intro for the Aretha Franklin hit “Think” played repeatedly.
Violinist-composer Todd Reynolds was back as both a solo performer (Michael Lowenstern‘s “Crossroads”, which can be heard on the epic Outerborough CD; Lowenstern also performed with Reynolds on a piece titled “Boot”) and as part of the Michael Gordon Band , another great new music supergroup featuring Gordon himself on keys, Evan Ziporyn, Caleb Burhans, David Cossin and Mark Stewart performing Gordon’s “Thou Shalt/Thou Shalt Not”.
The band Newspeak, whom I just featured on The Glass the week of the marathon had given a very brief set of Oscar Bettison‘s “B & E” and David T. Little‘s “Sweet Light Crude”, both from the Sweet Light Crude CD. Both bands deserved to be on the stage longer than they were.
And singer-songwriter-guitarist Kaki King played an all-too-brief solo acoustic set. I would have loved hearing her with her band.
Trombone ensemble The Guidonian Hand appeared with two separate pieces; first one on the stairs in the middle of the hall with Jeremy Howard Beck‘s “Awakening”, which sort of felt to me like a twisted fanfare from a Picasso-ed “Man of La Mancha”, and the second piece later on the stage was Eve Beglarian‘s “In and Out of The Game”.
Then there’s what I consider to be sort of The Beatles of the new music genre, The Bang On a Can All-Stars, and this was truly the first time I could sit down and watch them perform live in person without distractions.
I don’t know if it’s their advanced musicianship or the compelling pieces given to them, or either or both of those combined with the nuance of having interviewed 3 of the members of the band and just being excited about that, but they are such a great band to watch. Whether it’s darker, more experimental-in-nature pieces (Marcin Stanczyk‘s “Nibiru”, with breathing and grunting), minimal music, post-minimal music, or music in a more whimsical place, they make each work worth hearing every second from start to finish, and there is such a clarity and familiarity in their performances. They played 3 separate sets during several intervals of the marathon over the course of the day, and although I only saw two of the three sets, I’m sure I saw my favorite moment ever on this day when they did a powerful reading of Thurston Moore‘s “Stroking Piece #1” with a climax that made me absolutely appreciate what percussionist/drummer David Cossin does so much more than ever before.
In their second set, they performed Evan Ziporyn‘s arrangement of 4 of Conlon Nancarrow‘s “Piano Studies” from their current CD Big, Beautiful, Dark and Scary. The arrangement of Study 3a always reminds me of Rock and Roll in an alternate universe.
Nancarrow: Study 3a for Player Piano (arr. by Ziporyn; Bang On a Can All-Stars at BOAC Marathon, NYC; 6/17/12)
EDITOR’S NOTE: I was told by another friend of mine who was at this show that Vicky Chow was about to sit in for one of the soloists on Kris Davis’ Massive Thread until the guy that was late getting in (Craig Taborn) had to literally fight security to get on the stage and take his rightful place! What an entrance! I wish I’d been there to see that!
Written by Matthew Gianotti
Following Mr. Lucier, The All-Stars returned with “Sunray” by David Lang, who dedicated this piece to his father for Fathers’ Day. The piece started as the guitar, piano, clarinet, and vibraphone created a ‘beam’, accented by the string pizzicati. The ever flowing piece somehow managed to capture a stillness one would associate with a glowing beam of light. Minutes in, a new section started with a fresh rhythmic complexity, the texture getting ever denser. The addition of glockenspiel and arco strings gave an richness to the growing ray of light. Finally, the piece reached full intensity, the drums driving, and the cellist playing her heart out. The rock-infused jam band cacophony driven by the drums provided a much edgier emotional release than anything else thus far.
The next blissful moment was the collaboration between composer Michael Harrison and film maker Bill Morrison. “Just Ancient Loops” is a three-part journey for cello (played by Bang On a Can alumnus Maya Beiser; photo right courtesy of Glenn Cornett) and 19 recorded celli. And while different from other pieces by Mr. Harrison, it maintains a very clear sense of form while showing off his knowledge of the harmonic series. There is little else to say than this piece was a magnificent cosmic journey, with a great groove, beautiful melodies, and mesmerizing rhythms. The visuals brought the piece to full fruition in an explosion of time and space. My favorite climax of the evening was Mr. Harrison’s cluster of the notes on the harmonic series, which penetrated the room in a dense yet calming intensity.
The only way to follow such a powerful piece is to bring out Steve Reich, himself, to introduce his piece entitled “Six Pianos”, performed by the Grand Band, making their second appearance at the marathon. Reich used to perform this work with his own ensemble many years ago, but the lucky audience last night got a rare modern day performance. The beauty of Mr. Reich’s work is in the subtle changes over time, creating new varieties of rhythms while maintaining a solid groove. Nearly everyone in a twenty foot radius of me was bobbing their head, tapping their foot, or some other physical manifestation of the beat. This was a piece to close your eyes, and lose yourself in the undercurrent of sound.
The final work, performed by percussion ensemble Talujon (pictured right, Matthew Gold; photo courtesy of Glenn Cornett), was Gerard Grisey‘s “Le Noir de l’Etoile”, another cosmic journey, this one describing the movement of pulsars. Six multi-percussion setups were positioned in a hexagonal pattern around the dwindling audience. Honestly, what I heard next was nothing I had prepared for. After a day of largely accessible music, this work was poly meter, poly tempi, and very demanding to listen to. I regret not knowing about this piece before the performance, because it will likely be a long time until I hear it in such a wonderfully resonant and large space. I experienced a wide variety of emotions. At times, I was surprised by the accents, engaged by the passing around of timbre and rhythm, and even anxious, nervously anticipating the next musical event. This piece is a purely human experience, reaching the body on a primal and fundamental level.
As a whole, this was the best Bang on a Can Marathon I have attended. After 25 years, Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe should be proud of their organization, which seems to be reaching an ever increasing number of music fans.