Thursday, August 06, 2009

8.6.09 BANG GANG


This review originally appeared in the 8.6.09 issue of Metroland
Everything, All at Once

Bang on a Can Marathon

MASS MoCA, North Adams, Mass., Aug. 1

I don’t have many traditions, but this is now officially one of them: the annual Bang on a Can contemporary music extravaganza that wraps up the New York City group’s forward-looking, open-ended, and open-hearted summer residency at MASS MoCA. I went last year and liked it; this year I loved it. If BOAC did this every month, I’d go watch it every month.

Arriving about an hour and a half in, I learned I’d already missed a Meredith Monk, a David Zorn and a Thom Yorke piece. D’oh! As the next four hours flew by in a flash and left me wanting more, you can bet I won’t make the same mistake again. I’m getting there early next year. Maybe I'll camp out.

The day was an utter mélange of styles and instruments. The first couple of pieces I saw, part of an Eastern European suite of works, featured an ensemble of violin, bass flute, several bass clarinets, heavily treated electric guitar, drum kit, and the extraordinary young Kyrgyzstani musicians Kambar Kalendarov and Kutmanaaly Sultanbekov, who played various wind and string instruments with names like chopo choor, sybyzgy and temir ooz komyz. The pieces were deeply funky, melodic, and most of all they were fun, with band members chanting and clapping when they weren’t playing.

Space won’t allow me to go long on any of this, but my highest points were Julia Wolfe’s piece for four drummers; John Adams’ hypnotic string-ensemble piece “Shaker Loops”; Todd Reynolds’ heroic solo violin performance, “Light Is Calling,” before a three-screen Bill Morrison projection; George Antheil’s four-piano, mondo-percussion-and-electronic-sound masterpiece “Ballet Mecanique”; and the return of the Kyrgyzstan guys, playing traditional music in traditional garb, and just plain rocking the house. But there wasn’t a single thing all day I didn’t like. A lot.

The day was split into three two-hour sessions, each with a half-dozen or so works, and the audience is allowed to drift in and out of the theater and the concert was blasted to the outdoor courtyard so you didn’t miss anything. What a terrific, relaxed vibe. The Bang on a Can Marathon is summertime.

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