Sunday, June 27, 2010

bang on a live blog

12:20pm - Arrived late at the BOAC Marathon. John Hollenbeck (composer, drummer) and his Large Ensemble just finished Perserverance, for jazz orchestra, alternating between rhapsodic grooves and extended sax solos (which apparently illustrated the candidates of the last presidential election?). Up next Dorothee Hahne.

12:25 - Apparently I can be a Marathon warrior? Will look good on my resume. Someone just brought a giant bassoon on stage. This should be good. Okay, it's a giant recorder---Hahne's group is the Quartet New Generation, playing Dance macabre. Moritz Eggert is talking about Chopsticks, which he apparently turned into a "wall of sound" of recorders (coming up in Flohwalze).

Dance macabre was pretty solid, moving from hooty recorder long tones backed by electronics and gradually layers on different little rhythmic patterns. It builds to a climax and then suddenly returns to those stagnant notes.

Now Paul Moravec's Mortal Flesh, based on a chorale with the same name. Their recorders are really really big.

12:52 - Just finished up the Recorder set. Moravec's piece was in a markedly different idiom from the others, beginning with a dissonant, heavily inflected chorale. The music got faster, recorders got smaller, and the music became almost Hindemith-like, with bustling counterpoint.

Eggert's Flohwalze didn't really sound like Chopsticks but did feature something like a sub ultra contra bass recorder. The four women yelped, slapped, stomped, and threw stuff everywhere, even playing two recorders at once. Impressive stuff. Next up, traditional Kyrgzstani music.

1:06 - Two guys with awesome hats just played brilliant music from Kyrgzstan on instruments resembling a Jew's Harp (is that still PC?), recorder, flute, and mandolin. The Jew's Harp duets had some really cool overtones, sounding almost electronic. The long-breathed recorder solo was entrancing, followed by a deft and virtuosic mandolin duet. Nice to hear something a little off the beaten path.

1:21 - Florent Ghys' Simplement for double-bass and laptop was my favorite piece so far, with simple and crystalline minimalist grooves echoing Tom Johnson. The middle section, with Ghys imitating the contours of a recorded voice (in French) evoked Different Trains in a very good way.

1:30 - Moritz Eggert's Hammerklavier III: One Man Band takes Stockhausen's Klavierstuck IX to the next level. His rhythmic barrage is banged out on the piano rather than with the piano. Finally he began playing the keys with every appendage, ending standing up with a final smash of the keyboard.

2:11 - Face the Music, a contingent of very talented high-schoolers, performed Graham Fitkin's Mesh. It has that semi-generic BOAC sound which crops up in one or two pieces on most of their albums. Assorted instruments played twinkling, post-In C patterns. The highlight was the ballsy flute soloist, quite impressive for a high school age musician. Despite the solid performance, probably the least interesting piece so far.

I missed the beginning of Tristan Perich's piece (apparently a program change), but it sounds great so far, with soothing high-pitched electronics and rumbling bells, like an space-age John Luther Adams outtake.

2:30 - Steve Coleman's trio (alto sax, trumpet, piano) is slowly tracing vaguely modal patterns, taking Sun Ra's "Space is the Place" mentality as a point of departure--the work's title is Formation -- Lunar Eclipse (Saros 120). It's great that BOAC has incorporated the gamut of avant-garde genres, if you can place this quasi-free jazz into a genre to begin with.

2:42 - Okay that went on a little long.

2:52 - Intermission just ended. There's a raffle going on, gotta get my postcard. Up next is a set with Slagwerk Den Haag, with music by Seung-Ah Oh and Marco Momi. Apparently Oh's piece DaDeRimGil is about ironing...

3:05 - Extended set change still going. Seated Ovation Official Photographer Molly Yeh has arrived; we will have photos if I can find a USB cable.

3:15 WHAT UP this is guest live blogga molly yeh pronounced yay and i am comin atcha bout some percussion things at this bang on a can marathon while your favorite will robin finds a cable for my camera. watching some slagwerk den haag play wood sticks and some metal right now. it is super cool. <-- that is the extent of my music criticism vocabulary (things are either super cool or super un cool and this is SUPER COOL. something i'd want to play. nice nipple gongs. digging the dude with the hat. is this trio per uno for six? "is this still the same piece?" says billy. no. will. ok this piece is dunzo. time for xenakis. wait. where's the lake?

- Will is back while Molly takes some pics. Oh's piece was the longest and most exhilarating so far, fifteen-plus minutes of controlled, deliberate percussion gestures. Now we've got Marco Momi's Ludica, again with Slagwerk. Xenakis + JACK impending.
molly's friend sam just stopped by!
he's about to play with the gamelan ensemble

3:47 - Ludica, a dialogue between mallet percussion and electronics, was a bit crazier than Oh's concentrated work. Tons of hits and static-y booms filled the hall, with at one point an omnipresent beeping sounding like a phone off the hook. Unfortunately Momi also had the HUM FROM HELL, this 30-second loud buzz. The toddler near me expressed his concern quite vocally.
Slagwerk Den Haag rocks some Marco Momi

4:05 - JACK Quartet just TORE UP Xenakis. They brought a cool sheen and fierce intensity to Tetras, a buzzsaw of a piece. The gruesomeness of the slides was simply awesome, and the brutal force of the music was heightened by their virtuosic performance. Wildcat props to Northwestern alum Ari Streisfeld, their second violinist.
JACK Quartet + Xenakis = gold

4:24 - We are in the midst of Evan Ziporyn's Tire Fire--who would've thought that gamelan and electric guitar would go together so naturally? Purple pajama suited performers should be a requirement at all concerts. This is one of those great examples of cross-influences shooting around the world. The original minimalists heavily drew upon the static rhythms and harmonies of Indian and Indonesian music, including gamelan. By actually writing for a gamelan ensemble, Ziporyn fuses the ecstatic repetition of those original minimalist impulses (and pulses!) with a postminimalist , heavy rock drive. It meanders beautifully between traditional percussion, gamelan, and droning electric guitar.

4:31 - This sounds like Glenn Branca dropping acid in a Balinese temple.

4:51 - We are a post-gamelan set change break before more recorder quartet stuff, and soon Bang on a Can All-Stars.

Okay Childs is getting started.

5:02 - Mary Ellen Childs' movement from her still-in-progress Black Box began with a backbeat straight out of Yo Shakespeare (sidenote: liveblogging makes me do this Sasha FrereJones thing of calling each piece THIS ARTIST + THIS ARTIST), but softened by the use of recorders (yet another weird one, bent in half at a 90-degree angle). Lithe melodies float on top of the groove, and soon we get more jungle music sounding suspiciously similar to some of the other recorder quartet pieces. Now we're up to Michael Mensingh's Oh, I am sorry, did I break your concentration? one of my favorite piece titles (more favorite titles coming up).

5:11 - This is probably the least engaging piece so far. Mensignh combines a kind of Tom Johnson mischief with a stop-start build-up straight out of Lang's Cheating, Lying Stealing (see, I'm doing Frere-Jones again!). It's dragging on too long, and the premise was fairly derivative to begin with. Looking forward to Fred Frith's Snakes and Ladders with the BOAC All-Starzz.

5:46 - The last few pieces have fit decidedly within Bang on a Can's "house style," and Fred Frith's Snakes and Ladders is no exception. But it's also really, really good. Evan Ziporyn, now the elder stateman of the All-Stars, stole the show. The piece began with alternating vibes and piano, and more instruments slowly entered into the mix--cello, bass, electric guitar, and eventually Ziporyn's piquant clarinet. Ziporyn tooted, wailed, and groaned away over the somewhat-steady beat, and gradually the music became more irritated, almost wild. It ended with a piano line (played elegantly by Vicky Chow) snaking upward in a repeated pattern, chacona-esque. Brilliant writing. Molly will chime in now.

5:52- molly here! hey i thought that last one was super cool. it made me want to get up and dance (sign of a good piece, but more importantly a good ensemble). i couldn't dance though because i had honey mustard all over my lap from my food court sammich.

talea ensemble is setting up right now. heyyyy alex lipowski (gordon gottlieb studio juilliard school represent!!!) lookin forward to seeing all of those nipple gongs in action.

oh and did i tell you will just looked up "groove" in the thesaurus? that failed. (this piece is canal-y. no. this piece is incision-y. nope.)

will just said, "let's go get ice cream after this." and i just got really really happy.

Ziporyn and the all-stars Frithing.

6:11 - Still waiting for Talea Ensemble to deliver us some Fausto Romitelli Professor Bad Trip. We are running behind schedule? OK Mr. Gordon here to introduce them.

6:31 - The Talea Ensemble just began lesson two out of three of the appropriately-titled, seemingly-interminable Professor Bad Trip. To make a grand generalization, of the kind which just about everybody despises, there are two types of pieces in the BOAC "house style": rock-inflected grooves (I cannot for the life of me find a good synonym for groove, so it will continue to be used frequently) and electro-acoustic soundscapes. This is the first piece of the Marathon to fall definitively into the latter category. Romitelli inflects the static sound-world with the breathy sound of flute and other acoustic instruments (it's also the first piece to use a practically classical ensemble, plus amplification and electronix). We're in the midst of the second movement/lesson, significantly more interesting than the first, with a see-sawing amped-up cello solo at its core.

7:12 - Listening to Buke and Gass, hanging and re-charging at the Social Media Lounge™, eating mediocre and overpriced gelato from Ciaobella. Romitelli's piece got better over time; lesson zwei bristled with life, and the soundscape in lesson drei became denser but more carefully orchestrated, borderline Feldman-y. A crazed, jittery rush brought us towards what I thought would be the end, but electronics took over completely, with an overwhelming roar sounding like a bomb was about to go off. Despite its strong moments, though, not sure if it justified its thirty-plus minute length. Buke and Gass not particularly interesting (guitar duet with girl singer--not sure if she's Buke or Gass?). Looking forward to more craziness from resident pianist/composer/nutjob Moritz Eggert and his Hammerklavier studien.

7:21- hazelnut biscotti.

7:25pm - Thanks Molly. Setting the stage for Kappellmeister Eggert.

7:41 - Wow. Why don't more performances end with the pianists' feet on the keyboard? Eggert, in his two Hammerklavier etudes, combines post-modern Germanic tendencie towards deconstruction with a Cagean spark of irreverent invention. Study in fall began with jazzy, Ligeti-like filigree rippling across the piano, but that was just the start. Eggert reveled in Piano + _____, banging his feet and head, yelping at the top of his lungs. In One Man Band 2, he played a cutesy lick on harmonica, smashed into a toy piano, and hit a yellow squeaky toy. Nothing is sacred---I mean, he sat on the keyboard. It's delightfully canny and fiendishly difficult music: the composer as comic virtuoso.
Moritz Eggert plants his rear on the piano. The real question is, who's playing it next?

8:09 - Getting power in The Social Media Lounge™ is not the best place to experience Mayke Nas' and Wouter Snoei's I Delayed People's Flights By Walking Slowly in Narrow Hallways (remember when I said there were more awesome titles coming? this is the awesomest). The four boys of Slagwerk Den Haag sat in chairs facing blackboards, beginning by stomping their feet and bowing their bodies. They leapt up in turn and turned the chalkboards into drums, writing percussively. Elementary shapes coalesced into letters, then words, with cryptic messages like "I came into the world." Sometimes the four boards formed a message, other times they took on varying personas: "I approved of myself," "I disapproved of myself." It was difficult to see so I after sometime I just decided to listen to the rumble of recorded percussion and chalkboard mania. We've now hit the 8pm set, with upcoming music by Vernon Reid, Kate Moore, Mira Calix, and Tim Brady.

Slagwerk prepares for chalking

The Marathoneers

8:21pm - SOME of us have to work tomorrow. i bid you all adieu. goodnight kittens! read my blog. love, molly

8:34pm - With the departure of photographer Molly, Seated Ovation live blog has officially returned to Web 1.0 edition. Text from here on out. Right now Julia Wolfe is introducing Vernon Reid and his ensemble, to perform Ghost Narratives.

8:58 - Caught the beginning of Ghost Narratives, which incorporates recordings of the last generation of African-American slaves, before taking a pizza break. Started off intriguing, with a dark, improvisatory jam set under those voices (unfortunately unintelligible). Now it's moving stuff around before Kate Moore's Ridgeway and the Return of the All-Stars.

9:22pm - That was my "Wooooo!" at the end of Ridgeway. Moore's score hangs out with the best of the Bang on a Can classics, making the best use of the All-Stars. A sawing figure transforms into a downspin of glissandos; a bubbly, soaring cello theme emerges; the rigorous balls-to-the-wall drive returns. Like my favorite old-skool Lang/Gordon/Wolfe pieces, it masterfully juxtaposes tender lyricism with splendorous aggression--sometimes both at once. Gradually over the course of the work, the pulsating musical mechanism, that sensationally-constructed rawness, emerges as a massive drone. It's like that John Adams Harmonielehre image of the oil tanker flying up into the sky, and the music achieves a heightened, visceral state.

Now listening to Mira Calix Live, a somewhat-abrasive, somewhat-New Age laptop explosion featuring none other than--wait for it--Mira Calix.

9:38pm - Turned off my brain for most of Mira Calix's piece, but really loved her ethereal voice at the end. Next up more Calix with the All-Stars joining in, then two Tim Brady works, then the final stretch! Have had my program stamped 10 times--two more and I'm a Marathon Warrior. I hope I get to show David Lang my war face.

9:49 - I really liked the transition from controlled twitchness to a laid-back, in the pocket (that's @marcgeelhoed for you) funk in Calix's spring falls back. A pocket of lyricism just erupted back into the twitch, and I feel a loud coda impending.

10:00 - It's ten pm! Do you know where your children are? Tim Brady, guitar and video, on deck.

10:26 - Wow, I am actually out of breath. Remember what I said about a new music punch to the face? Well, my nose is broken, and Tim Brady's knuckles are bloody. I could not get into his first piece at all (video projections by Martin Messier), which sounded too unfocused for me. But Strumming (Homage a John Lennon) simply floored me. A pulsing organism, Strumming's constant barrage of sound inhabited my entire body. Brady shredded away on his guitar backed by electronic, reverberating layers, gradually turning to thrasing noise and back again. Sudden shifts between sections echoed Steve Reich's pulse-based works, and musical shapes emerged and receded. At first I was turned off by the video, but then an image of a hand strumming a guitar gained focus. It expanded and multiplied, with hundreds, and then thousands of tiny images of guitars. Those little boxes formed into a landscape and clicked with the soaring music in a way that just screamed Gesamtkunstwerk. Needless to say, it was a breathtaking overload of information.

Calming down now to a bit more Kyrgyzstani music, a much-needed acoustic respite before the final Twilight of the New Music Gods, feat. Florent Ghys, Burkina Electric (Lukas Ligeti!) and SIGNAL doing the O.G. BOAC's Shelter.

10:52 - Florent Ghys may be my big discovery of today. His exuberant postminimalist licks are exactly what I wanted to hear in my Marathon, and his second piece, 4, with video projections, topped the first. Refreshing, colorful images of Ghys playing bass and practically rapping in French at a shipyard set up a wonderfully hip swing. Ghys' presence was in just about every part of the work--playing along with not only a recording, but a video of himself---which could seem almost egotistic if it weren't so enjoyable. He bopped around like he was having a ton of fun, watching the video as if he couldn't get enough of his own image. A solemn, even stately slow coda gave it a glowing end, and the video-Ghys walked off camera.

11:22pm - I have received my final Marathon stamp, and am an official Marathon Warrior. Burkina Electric just finished up a sensational, jubilant set of Afrobeat/funk/avant-garde electronica, with a triumverate of joyful dancers/singers. Now it's all the "hardcore Bang on a Can listeners," according to Julia Wolfe, ready to hear Shelter.

At this point, I may just take notes on Shelter and blog about it in the morning. Not sure yet---but this may be goodnight. It has been a truly amazing experience, twelve hours of mostly fantastic music, and many thanks to all who participated.