Bang on a Can Marathon @ Winter Garden, New York, NY
Saturday May 31, 2008 - Sunday June 1, 2008
12-hours (actually, more like 13) of new music performed by Alarm Will Sound, Pamela Z, Lisa Moore, Crash Ensemble, Karsh Kale/Raj Maddela, Ensemble Nikel, Caleb Burhans, Hartt Bass Band, Young People's Chorus of New York City, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Owen Pallet, Bora Yoon, SIGNAL, So Percussion, Marnie Stern, Dan Deacon, Contact and Toby Twining Music.
The image of the 1987 posters for the first Bang on a Can marathon are etched indelibly into my mind from my first ever venture into the Big Apple to explore the cultural center of the universe. From its first moments - when John Cage stood on stage to act as a "can opener" - to the first-ever can bangers' mosh pit this past weekend the principles of destroying perceived barriers, relentlessly exploring new music in massive all-night chunks and exposing ears to new music ensembles from all over the world has grown into an event of improbable gravity that dares to test one's aural stamina with more outstanding music than the mind can take in one sitting. The would be "iron man" of audience members comes away exposed to challenging ideas, new composers and ensembles to investigate and a few surprises that stress even the most open-minded sense of tolerance.
These ears consumed every note and every performance from the front row. The experience was nothing short of pure gluttony. By the time the Toby Twining Music's performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen's Simmung unfolded its exquisite meditation into the early Sunday morning hour the all-night binge left the mind deeply sated and exhausted. The beast that Bang on a Can founders David Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe have unleashed has grown as the huge crowd drawn to the Winter Garden Atrium barely diminished over the course of the sunset to sunrise experience.
The centerpiece of this year's marathon was the public debut of SIGNAL performing Steve Reich's Daniel Variations just after midnight. Being deeply familiar with the works of Steve Reich - but not familiar with this piece - it was odd to hear the harmonic patterns and rhythmic propulsion that practically courses through my veins bent into such a strikingly unfamiliar entity. The text juxtaposes the Daniel of the Old Testament with the Jewish reporter Daniel Pearle. Both are memorialized with a sense of reverence somewhere between Desert Music and Different Trains. SIGNAL rendered a rhythmically tight and focused performance. No small feat given the size of this ensemble. Let's hope there are many performance and recording plans for this new titan of new music ensembles.
My personal favorite performance was Stronghold, composed for eight acoustic basses by Julia Wolfe. The slabs of sonic materials and independent parts brought out the rich spectrum of sound available from so many "low" instruments. The tremolo parts were like a gathering storm and the overall variation of textures between deliriously thick and thin was in the service of exceptional string writing and taut composition.
The performance of Arnold Dreyblatt's Resonant Relations by the Dublin-based Crash Ensemble has me wondering why Dreyblatt isn't a gigantic obsession (yet) for these ears. With its strange tunings (the score da tura of the open strings of violin, viola, cello and double bass parts immediately caught my attention along with the tuning of the sampled harpsichord) and loud, propulsive inner logic through aggressive and outlandish modulations this was a music with a strong kinship to my own ideas. Dreyblatt is submerged in an intensely creative, forward-looking sensibility that begs further exploration.
Michael Gordon's Every Stop On The F Train was the most striking piece on the marathon. The short composition for the Young People's Chorus of New York City takes the name of each stop from Queens to Coney Island as its text and beautifully arranges it for voices. The human delay running from the left-to-right side of the choir provided a wonderful sense of the lurching movement of the subway train. While the video accompaniment by Bill Morrison lined up perfectly as each station came into view as it was sung.
And the distinction of most genre-defying (in the Can Banging sense) was the 4:00am inclusion of Dan Deacon. Apparently a wildly popular Baltimore-based phenomenon who had managed to escape my attention up until the flash-mob of youthful exuberance suddenly assembled and spontaneously erupted into a crowd surfing frenzy for all of 15 minutes. Just long enough for me to question the wisdom of my front seat location. The transition from pounding drums over analog arpeggios into the tranquility of Allison Cameron and Brian Eno required some deft negotiation with a party looking to rage on.
The piece that left me most hungry to learn more about the composer was Convex-Concave-Concord by Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen. An obsessively quiet, slow building piece that reveals itself with deliberate pacing that was given a fantastic interpretation by the Bang on a Can All-Stars. The unfolding of ideas along the span of this music combined with the integrated gestures between instruments begs for repeated listening and hints at a creative sensibility worth further exploration.
Other crazy souls who braved out the full 12-hours (or at least part of it):
Darcy James Argue's play-by-play account
Steve Smith at the New York Times
Night After Night
Notes from a Subway Journal
Guest of a Guest