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Bang Those Canners!

Seriously nasty review of the Bang on a Can Marathon over on the Huffington Post (HuffPo, to its friends) by somebody I don’t know named Jan Herman. The review is faint enough but the killer is the tacked on comment at the end:

“Look at these photos,” a friend writes, “and think of a bunch of dipshits making music with coffee grinders or Volan’s arty little piece appropriating South African tunes to make another of the limp-spined Left’s innocuous, feel-good, PC statements (and written about 30 years ago which makes its status as new music rather questionable). Beehive music is a good term for Bang on a Can. It’s a collective of yuppie drones and worker bees legitimizing blinkered Honkiness with cute Kultur.”

Why can’t we all just get along?


Comment from Ian David Moss
Time: June 3, 2009, 6:47 pm

Herman has an ArtsJournal blog here:

There are legitimate artistic critiques to be made of BoaC, I think, but that’s just ridiculous (especially since the rest of his review is completely incongruous with that throwaway paragraph at the end). I’m not a regular reader, and that kind of effort doesn’t exactly inspire me to become one.

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: June 3, 2009, 7:22 pm

“Limp-spined Left” is kind of a strange formulation, like what we really need around here is some good Wagner or maybe some real ‘merican music like that Aaron Copland guy wrote. Oh, he was? Never mind.

Comment from davidcoll
Time: June 3, 2009, 8:07 pm

yeah, and a communist to boot…

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: June 3, 2009, 8:33 pm

The person’s own blinkers were showing pretty strongly, seems to me. If you want to complain about suspected poseurism, it doesn’t help when all your own words are as poseur as they come.

Comment from Corey Dargel
Time: June 3, 2009, 8:38 pm

Relax, guys. No one goes to Huff Post to check in on the arts. And anyone who does knows immediately to dismiss a “arts writer” who uses effete-ness as an insult.

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: June 3, 2009, 8:49 pm

Meant to add to my comment that “This is not music criticism, it’s drive-by penis envy.”

Comment from Scott Unrein
Time: June 3, 2009, 9:26 pm

Maybe the BOAC bus ran over his dog and his grandmother on the way to the marathon?

I think it’s funny he has to tell us that his criticism has “attitude”. It rings of self-labeling as a maverick.

Comment from Chris Becker
Time: June 3, 2009, 10:07 pm

“Making music with coffee grinders…”

My good friend composer and fellow honky Doug Henderson created an incredible piece where he recorded his coffee maker over the course of 200 mornings making 200 cups of coffee until the machine konked out :) It’s called “Giving up the Ghost.”

Jan, you are no Lester Bangs :(

Comment from paul bailey
Time: June 4, 2009, 12:10 am

what’s the big deal?

i think that his snarkiness accurately describes many new music concert these days.

if the goal of a festival is to champion “art” and “experimentation” (as well as good old fashioned institutional back slapping) at most new music festivals i bet i’ll only be interested in 5-10% of the music that i heard and the remaining easily falls into those common cliche’s that jan herman is complaining about; coffee grinder music, folk music appropriations, and feel good PC spoken word performance art.

i’m personally surprised that he didn’t complain about the current trend of laptop button twiddlers (in which i’m guilty as charged)

btw…like anything else i’m sure in the “coffee grinder repertoire” there is a wide variety of good and bad compositions. i think a good example is jon brenner’s
coffee grinder/espresso maker hybrid suite “caffeine machine” (which falls into the coffee grinder music rococo phase of the early 00’s) is pretty successful work.

Comment from Chris Becker
Time: June 4, 2009, 9:34 am

I only just discovered the link at the artsjournal site for the “Look at these photos…” copy. It’s a link to some truly sad photos of child aged victims of war.

I was going to type something funny before seeing that link and the photos…but I think some other more nuanced response to Jan and the Huffington Post might be appropriate.

But maybe Paul’s right and we’re all making too big a deal out of this? I’m not sure :(

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: June 4, 2009, 10:09 am

I don’t think it was a big deal at all. That Jan’s friend (and Jan himself, from what he wrote) didn’t like much of what they heard or saw is par for almost any event. It’s just that the comments weren’t really criticism, but rather a string of code pahrases a la Limbaugh on lefties, almost no difference. The photo thing is just that way-too-easy “true yet false” argument: “How can you possibly enjoy or support [insert beloved social, artistic, recreational act], when there is [insert human, animal, or environmental wrong] in the world?”

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: June 4, 2009, 10:50 am

It’s the gratuitous excursion into politics that I find most baffling. Are we to infer that there are no effete, gay Republican composers and musicians?. That only lefties like this kind of shit or are what my mother used to call “artistic.”? I must confess a certain sympathy for the plundering the Third World notion (Not the Volans, which I like a lot) but Floodplain, Kronos’ latest excursion into slumdog fishing, makes me want to scream: “Enough with the poverty porn, folks.”

Comment from Chris Becker
Time: June 4, 2009, 11:05 am

Jerry, I hear you. But you know, Kronos broke so much new ground in their early days as a quartet – I think its easy to forget that…to take them (and BOAC) for granted. These days, playing “Purple Haze” on strings isn’t a big deal and may even come across as contrived – but the first time I heard them pull it off the audience went nuts. So Floodplain – in the context of their recorded output – doesn’t strike me as opportunistic or insincere.

I’d type more but my left hand is going limp…

Comment from Richard Mitnick
Time: June 4, 2009, 1:20 pm

I think that the history and tradition of B.O.A.C is sufficient to withstand the slings and arrows or outrageous criticism.

I have never seen the BOAC Allstars, but I do own the music of Michael Gordon, “Decasia’, “Trance” and “Yo Shakespeare”. I enjoy it very much.


Comment from jccombs
Time: June 4, 2009, 3:16 pm

Someone who didn’t like my negative comments on the article told me that the scene at BOAC is somewhat pretentious and that the artists you think you know can be a bit two-faced. Perhaps the reviewer had a bad social experience.

Comment from jodru
Time: June 4, 2009, 6:19 pm

I thought the article did a really good job of capturing the twin extremes of how someone could experience the marathon.

Comment from Joe Phillips
Time: June 5, 2009, 6:07 am

While I don’t like the snarky and dismissive attitude (it is the same kind of commentary that makes much of political discourse so counter-productive), I took out of the article that BoAC is a “brand”. And like many brands, it is subject to it’s own style and ways of doing things. There is a certain aesthetic at BoAC, which I think is what the author was trying to get across in a not so elegant way. I agree that last postscript, while trying to give an example of his ‘thesis’, was totally unnecessary and gratuitous.

Comment from Paul H. Muller
Time: June 8, 2009, 4:42 pm

Huffington Post can be pretty snarky – it is part of its charm, I suppose. I comment there often on political issues.

But their Bang On A Can piece was in their “Entertainment” section and mixed in with stuff like “Candy Spelling Bails on Granddaughter’s First Birthday”, Megan Fox Shows a Lot of Leg at the ‘Transformers’ Premiere” and “Heidi Rushed to Hospital Convulsively Throwing Up”.

So there is no mistaking this stuff for real criticism. But I hope the exposure helps new music.

Comment from Chris Becker
Time: June 14, 2009, 1:21 pm

By the way…”Floodplain” is f—ing incredible. “Plundering the Third World”? Jerry – not to pick on you (because I think I understand your points of view on this topic) but this CD is a very highly realized collection of music – sophisticated, devotional, even punk rock at times. It would be a shame to avoid it simply because we lump “Asians” and non-Jews with “the third world.”

That weird attitude is what scares me as an artist – that what I might choose to do creatively will be perceived as “plundering” or “slumming” simply because I’m white and live in the United States.

And that attitude is voiced for the most part by…fellow musicians. Which still confuses me, even at the age of 40 :(