Bang On A Can All-Stars, Bang on Can Classics

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 01.18.11 in Reviews

The Bang On A Can new music collective began in the mid-80s as a renegade band of NY composers — Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe, and David Lang, all of whom are represented here — and has swelled over the years to include an annual series of concerts, an annual set of commissions, a record label (Cantaloupe Music), and a top-shelf house band, the Bang On A Can All-Stars. The All-Stars are an electro-acoustic band, a chamber ensemble with electric guitar, drums, and bass. This collection brings together some of the All-Stars finest moments, beginning with David Lang's "Cheating, Lying, Stealing," a cheeky, rhythmic piece that started Lang on the course that would eventually bring him the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 2008. That course is one that acknowledges a generation of composers who grew up on rock music, and who are comfortable with technology, and who do not feel constrained by the usual rules of classical composition. (Check out Lang's The Passing Measures, a 42-minute piece of Brian Eno-style "ambient music" — built on a single chord.)

The best and most influential work from the most well-known composers’ collective in America

Highlights here include "Industry," a pivotal work in Michael Gordon's output, where a solo cello, amplified and increasingly processed, occupies a sonic world somewhere between a factory siren and Jimi Hendrix's guitar; and "Tsmindao Ghmerto," an arrangement of a haunting traditional prayer from the republic of Georgia by composer Evan Ziporyn, the All-Stars' clarinetist and primus inter pares. Lois Vierk's "Red Shift" is a striking piece built around constantly falling glissandi; Annie Gosfield's "Manufacture of Tangled Ivory" cleverly weaves the sampled sounds of a ruined piano into the All-Stars' already-hybridized ensemble. Julia Wolfe's "Lick" combines classical rigor with rock energy; and "Amalia's Secret," by Dr. Nerve guitarist and computer-music composer Nick Didkovsky, revels in subtle throbbing textures and unusual instrumental techniques.