Saturday, 15 March 2014

Bang On A Can's 2014 People's Commissioning Fund Concert

I caught the live stream of Bang on a Can's People's Commissioning Fund concert yesterday (you can find the full audio here) and it made me so so happy. Bang on a Can is a contemporary classic music outfit based in NY. Every year they do this concert funded by, well, the people where they commission works from upcoming and established composers to be performed by the Bang on a Can All-Stars ensemble. They also do other festivals and events throughout the year - one of which, the marathon concert, is one I've long longed to go to but it always either happens when I'm least able to fly to NY or I find out about it just after it's over.

Yesterday's PCF concert started out with an avant-garde piece called Lick which was apparently composed by one of the co-founders of Bang on a Can, Julia Wolfe, 20 years ago! I missed the intro and had no idea that the piece was that old. It was quite radical and rad. A joyfully cacophonous way to start the concert, I must say.

After that energetic start, they premiered the three pieces commissioned for this year, the first of which completely blew me away. It was Alvin Lucier's Firewood. Now I had never heard of this man before. The write up called him an electronic music pioneer. He spoke about the piece before the played it and he sounded very old. That's about the sum total of what I caught since my mind was wandering. The one thing he said that caught my attention was how he didn't use electronics unless he had to (none was used for Firewood). The incongruity of that struck me since he was billed as an electronic pioneer.

I paid more attention when I listened to his introduction speech again just now (I'm relistening to the whole show as I write this), and only some of it made sense to my musically ignorant brain. The gist of it is that the piece was inspired by the tracks left by insects as they crawled on firewood. He split the All-Stars into two trios that play his score in such a way that one trio follows the pattern of the tracks and the other plays tones that cause interferences that produce beats.

All this I know now. All I knew yesterday was this was a piece of music that really moved me. It was completely mesmerising. One of those rare moments that make you really glad to be alive. My only regret is not getting to experience it live in that hall. It starts just after the 16 minute mark in the audio stream. Start a few minutes earlier if you want to hear the intro. Headphones are essential for the full effect. I don't have my headphone here with me now and it really takes away from the experience when ambient noises interfere with the music.

The second piece they premiered was The Brief and Neverending Blur by Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Parry. I didn't really know Parry or his work, in or out of Arcade Fire, aside from the score of Her (although I think it was another band member who co-composed that). I found this piece quite underwhelming, but I think it suffered because it followed Lucier's piece. When I listened to it again today, with an adequate break in between the two pieces, I liked it more. Still it seemed to fall just short of being great.

The final premiere was Daniel Wohl's Holographic. This piece brought back the magic, the joy. A very fun and delightful electroacoustic work. It is hard not to smile when listening to it. I'm definitely looking up more of this guy's work. Quite the find.

And speaking of finds, Alvin Lucier is obviously the biggest discovery for me from this show. The best musical/artistic find in quite some time. I've looked him up since then and I'm quite keen on listening to every single piece he's ever created. I did listen to his most famous work, I am sitting in a room, earlier today. It is quite something indeed. The concept is brilliant, but what's amazing is how well it stands as an engaging piece of music in its own right. I really want to try it out in different rooms to see what I can come up with.

I know this post is already overlong and I should probably end here, but I really want to share this brilliant review of I am sitting in a room by Brian Olewnick. It says everything I can't. Read, and then listen.

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