Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bang on a Can: Marathon 2010

I think I've attended every Bang on a Can Marathon concert since 1993, and it's a pleasure to report that this year's offering was one of the best so far. From start to finish of this 13 hour event, the varied music was mostly interesting and attractive.

For me, the best was last. Jointly composed by the BOAC triumvirate of Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe, Shelter was co-commissioned by BAM and originally seen at their Next Wave Festival in 2005. The music is strong and effective throughout. Adding the dreamy, at times surreal videos of Bill Morrison and Laurie Olinder to the superb performance by SIGNAL produced a wonderful, impressive experience.

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One standout for me was Tim Brady's live electric-guitar work which was heavily processed and accompanied by excellent videos from Martin Messier. (The cumulative conclusion of the increasingly multiplied John Lennon guitar was mesmerizing.)

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Another virtuoso performer was Moritz Eggert, who attacked the keyboard with not only the standard 10 fingers, but also his left foot, chin, and butt. Of course he also roamed inside the piano, produced handheld noise-makers, slapped the the piano's surfaces, banged the keyboard lid, tossed in some body percussion, and more. Somehow, the choreographed expertise and an appropriate brevity made the music more than mere novelty.

Fausto Romitelli, a new name to me, died in 2004 at age 41. His Professor Bad Trip apparently has received considerable European acclaim. The fine performance here by the Talea Ensemble skillfully presented this 45-minute work, which blends "distorted colorations of acoustic and electric instruments as well as accessories like the mirliton and harmonica," and was inspired by "Henri Michaux's writings under the influence of psychedelic drugs." I liked it.

Outstanding performers played for the appreciative audience from both the main stage in front as well as an elevated landing towards the rear, from where we heard an excellent performance of Xenakis's Tetras by the JACK Quartet.

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Early on, two folk musicians from Kyrgyzstan, Kambar Kalendarov and Kutman Sultanbekov, presented lovely performances on the main stage, a haunting recorder and electronic-sounding jaw-harps resonating nicely in the setting's reverberant acoustics. Later, they emerged on the rear stage to dazzle us with showy performances on lute-like instruments.

I also enjoyed music from Tristan Perich, Seung-Ah Oh, Evan Ziporyn, Mary Ellen Childs, Fred Frith, Buke and Gass, and Kate Moore.

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David Lang listens to the sartorially enhanced Evan Ziporyn
discussing his upcoming piece.

Also noteworthy, the teenaged group Face the Music, directed by Jenny Undercofler, gave a fine performance of Graham Fitkin's Mesh.

The Dutch percussion group Slagwerk Den Haag offered several top-notch performances, including a work using blackboards outfitted with contact mikes that triggered samples when "played" by the chalk-writing performers, providing entertaining visual theatrics. This piece, I Delayed People's Flights By Walking Slowly in Narrow Hallways, can be viewed on YouTube.

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There are pluses and minuses in the Winter Garden's unusual venue. It suits the free-to-come-and-go-as-you-please nature of this long event, as well as taking place in a nontraditional public setting far removed from the standard uptown concert hall. On the other hand, this noisy, highly reverberant space favors certain styles of music and diminishes the impact of some pieces. For example, the important vocal samples in Vernon Reid's Ghost Narratives were unintelligible, and the vocal contributions of the uncredited Theo Bleckmann with a performance by SIGNAL were unheard (as if his mike was turned off).

About 30 photos, taken over the 13 hour concert, are here.

Overall, this was an extraordinary event. Bang on a Can remains one of the most important forces in new music.

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