Performance Saturday, November 5, 2011 | 9 PM

Bang on a Can All-Stars

Zankel Hall
Bang on a Can started out in 1987 as a group of free-wheeling composers dedicated to adding a fresh voice to contemporary music. Since then, they’ve started their own summer festival, record label, and their own performing All-Stars group. In March 2010, Bang on a Can All-Stars debuted Louis Andriessen’s multimedia work Life in Milan, and on this concert they give what the composer calls “a kind of contemporary Pictures at an Exhibition” its New York premiere.
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In the Composer’s Own Words

I started thinking about writing a piece called sunray in 2006, while in residence at MASS MoCA. That summer, my family was staying in the MASS MoCA artist’s housing in North Adams, which is next door to the SUN cleaners. Every morning I would wake up, make a cup of coffee, and stare out the window at the rays of the sun on the cleaner’s big sign. Even on rainy mornings, I woke up to the rays of the sun. It is dedicated to my father, Daniel Lang, on his 80th birthday.

for Madeline

In the Composer’s Own Words

I’ve spent the past year going in and out of synagogues to say Kaddish for Madeline. Of course she wouldn’t have approved of all the praying. Madeline came from a different world—a world where Jews grew up in ghettos. I realized all of this only much later. There’s plenty of time to think about these things in synagogue because there are so many prayers, and who can concentrate on all of them? Madeline loved music, and she would take me to concerts when I was little. I would fall asleep, but that didn’t deter her. She would have loved to be here tonight. This music is for her.


In the Composer’s Own Words

I have enjoyed a strong friendship with the Bang on a Can All-Stars and the Bang on a Can composers for more than 20 years. Since then, the All-Stars have played pieces of mine that are more or less suited for their instrumentation, and they have done so with so much brilliance and commitment that I have walked around at least 10 years with the intention to compose especially for them. However, it took a long time to find a solution because I found the combination of their instruments rather difficult: 19th century strings with contemporary instruments like guitar and various percussion. I found a way when I decided to see this instrumentation as an advantage, and I was supported by a collaboration with video artist Marijke van Warmerdam. We decided to make a kind of contemporary Pictures at an Exhibition: short pieces of music to accompany video clips. This resulted in Life—four short compositions which come from late Romantic European tradition with hip American repetitive music. This combination is stretched by the use of cross-references, paralleled with what happens in the four films: Every film is completely independent, but contains allusions to the others. 

About the Film

My new film, entitled Life, opens with leaves being lifted up and blown along, carried by gusts of wind. Neither buildings nor people can influence these things, taking place in a deserted industrial environment. A lone feather is whisked away on a sudden breeze. An elderly couple sits in contemplation on a bench amidst green grass in a late afternoon sunset. The camera tracks in a circular motion above and beneath them, sometimes in a distinct close-up, then viewed from a distance and above again. They are observed in the autumn of their life. The slats of closed Venetian blinds move slightly. Suddenly a hand slides across the blinds, allowing light into the room. An uncontrollable burst of light enters. Drops of condensation roll down a window-pane before a hand wipes them away, clearing the view and revealing the relaxed elderly couple in the distance. Their existence far away emphasizes the notion of temporality and the end of time.

—Marijke van Warmerdam

Instructional Video, Matt Damon, Breakfast at J&M

In the Composer’s Own Words

Some of the first scored music I wrote was a song cycle in 2002 called Slaves’ Graves. All the arrangements were based on the Mahler songs and Stravinsky stuff that I was obsessed with at the time. I remember playing it for my brother after I recorded it, and he was like, “Yea, this is cool—I can totally imagine Matt Damon running down some cobblestone street in Europe during that one part.” I was bummed at his association at the time, but a few years later, it came back as one of the main images that inspired this work.


In the Composer’s Own Words

The question faced by the composer in beginning a piece concerns identity. Through writing, she searches for her place in the landscape, delving into her own experience of heritage. Being of Dutch/Irish ancestry, yet born in England, brought up in Australia, and now living in the Netherlands, she questions her sense of belonging. To this she finds answers through acknowledging a deep respect and curiosity for the indigenous culture of Australia, which she observes does not belong to her. Yet feeling an affinity with the landscape, wildness, and remoteness of Australia, she researches the concept of the Songlines, or “Yiri” in the language of Warlpiri.

These are the invisible paths across Australia created by the aboriginal ancestor spirits as they emerged from the earth and traveled across the land creating mountains, valleys, rivers, and waterholes as they went. Their stories are captured through hundreds of ceremonial songs through which the land is “sung” into existence. Without trying to imitate, emulate, or even romanticize this sacred rite, she considers the landscape of her own origin, being of another ancient and rich history.

The piece is named after a historical track through southern England known as the Ridgeway. At the point where the Ridgeway crosses the Icknield Way, at the shallowest point in the Thames, the composer spent the first several years of her life. In observing the historical landmarks along the track; Stone Age, Bronze Age, Roman, medieval, and more recent stories emerge from each place. She imagines the footsteps that have shaped this road, not dissimilar to the ancient ancestors of the Australian landscape. Like with the Songlines, she wishes, through the six voices of the ensemble, to “sing” her landscape into existence.

Glamour Girl

In the Composer’s Own Words

One of the very special things about the Bang on a Can All-Stars is that they are an extremely advanced contemporary chamber group and a rock band at the same time, and therefore a statement against the segregation of stylistic schools—just my cup of tea.

In Glamour Girl, the drummer acts as a conductor of sorts, much like in a rock band. But the drumming is not in a standard rock style; it is based on a playing technique I initially developed for myself, featuring interlocking patterns that coalesce to form melodies of pitch and timbre, suggesting several different speeds at the same time. While it has been usual for Western music of the past 1,000 years to employ several simultaneous melodies, leading to consonances, dissonances, and harmonies, most music has had only one tempo at a time. I try to create harmonies of tempo, consonances and dissonances of speed. Different parts interlock and hocket to complement each other, and there is no set beat. Select an instrument to focus your attention on, or indeed any one component of the drum set, and feel the beat wherever you want. This concept derives in part from certain styles of African music. Over the years, I’ve produced quite a bit of African music and these days have an electronica band in Burkina Faso called Burkina Electric; not only the rhythms, but also some of the melodies in Glamour Girl, especially for the guitar, are influenced by these experiences.

Glamour Girl looks in the mirror, as any glamour girl does—and every time she looks at herself, or every time you look at her, you see her in a new light. Maybe she has new makeup, the melodies are wearing a new dress of a different color, or she walks down the catwalk in a different rhythm. It is all in the eyes of the beholder.

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