Posts Tagged “Bang on a Can”

Last night Steve Reich, the Bang on a Can All-Stars and red fish blue fish appeared in front of a full Disney Concert Hall as part of the LA Philharmonic 2011/2012 Green Umbrella series of contemporary music. Steve Reich was warmly greeted by an enthusiastic audience and performed the first piece Clapping Music along with percussionist David Cossin.

Clapping was followed by Video Phase an updated version of Reich’s 1967 Piano Phase. This was created by David Crossin in 2000 by playing the piece on MIDI percussion pads that trigger piano samples of the notes. A prerecorded video of this was projected onto a screen while Cossin played the percussion pads live, varying the tempo and pattern. A video feed of Cossins’ live playing was then superimposed onto the recorded video in such a way that the movement of the mallets could be seen going in and out of phase with each other as the piece progressed (see photo). This was particularly effective in showing how Piano Phase unfolds and the playing was brilliant, bringing out all the detailed complexities and cross-patterns that make this piece a classic. The appreciative audience demanded a curtain call from the breathless Cossin who had clearly put in a heroic effort.

The Los Angeles premiere of 2X5 followed. Composed in 2009 and scored for piano, bass guitar, electric guitars and drums, the piece can be played against a recording by a single group of 5 instruments or, as in this performance, by two identical 5-piece groups. The rock band scoring represents something of a departure for Reich but the piece contains the rhythmic structure and materials we have come to expect from his music. I first became familiar with 2X5 when Reich generously made the recorded elements available for a re-mixing contest on the Indaba Music website. The careful mixing of the full recorded version has doubtless spoiled me – the live performance to my ears lacked a certain sharpness and punch. The bass guitars sounded muddy and the listening was always improved when the drums entered, giving the texture some welcome clarity and pop. But the groove inherent in the piece broke through and I could see many of those in the audience around me clearly enjoying the interplay between the musicians on the stage.  A long and cheerfully noisy ovation preceded the intermission.

Music for 18 Musicians closed the show and here the sound issues became more distracting. I have listened to this piece dozens of times through headphones and I hear something new in the details each time – it is a landmark piece and has withstood the test of time. I love this piece – and Bang on a Can obviously knows how to play it – but somehow the experience I had in Disney Hall seemed out of balance and uneven. At each transition the change in texture seemed to put the ensemble sound into confusion. The players worked hard to sort it all out, but from where I was sitting the overall result was inconsistent. I have heard Music for 18 Musicians performed live before, achieving a realization on a par with the recording, but sadly this was not the case this time. All of the instruments were playing into microphones, so perhaps the decision to use a sound system in a concert hall should be revisited next time.  Music for 18 Musicians makes me want to tap my foot, bob my head and sing along – it has that kind of groove – but as I looked around most of the people listening were frozen still. A long and loud standing ovation followed, no doubt in appreciation of the fine music that Steve Reich and Bang on a Can has given us over the years.


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Todd Reynolds photographed by Toni Gauthier

HOUSTON, TX – On February 17th, 6:30 pm at the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston, the Houston music group Musiqa in collaboration with the Mitchell Center and CAMH present Answers to Questions with works by composers Bill Ryan, Michael Lowenstern, David T. Little, Ingram Marshall, and Nick Zammuto all performed by composer and violinist Todd Reynolds. The concert is produced in conjunction with and in response to the CAMH exhibition Answers to Questions: John Wood & Paul Harrison, the first United States museum survey of work in video by this British artistic team. Admission is free.

Composer, conductor, arranger and violinist, Todd Reynolds is a longtime member of Bang On A Can, Steve Reich and Musicians and an early member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. His commitment to genre-bending and technology-driven innovation in music has produced innumerable artistic collaborations that cross musical and disciplinary boundaries. As a solo performer, Reynolds continues to develop and perform a repertoire of works for his instrument in combination with the laptop computer and his main software weapon of choice Ableton Live. His forthcoming double CD Outerborough (Innova) features a CD of original works paired with a second disc of works composed especially for Reynolds in the past year. Reynolds will include two of his own works from Outerborough on the Feburary 17th concert. Outerborough is due out in March.

(Outerborough design, photography, and artwork by Mark Kingsley)

Reynolds says that while certain violinists impressed and inspired him from his very beginnings as a musician, including Stuff Smith, Stephane Grappelli, and electric violinist Jerry Goodman, more relevant to him as composer and soloist is guitarist Robert Fripp (“The first looper!”) and his Frippertronics performances, as well as composer singer Meredith Monk. Like Fripp and Monk, Reynolds has absorbed the musical techniques of many musical worlds, including country, blues, Indian music, jazz, and rock. As an independent instrumentalist, he reaches to fellow composers to compose pieces that utilize his formidable technique in combination with the edges of what is possible with digital technology. Other composer/performer/composer collaborations like Dawn Upshaw with Osvaldo Golijov, Helga Davis with Paola Prestini, and Pat Metheny with Steve Reich have similarly helped “strengthen the art” of both new music and its interpreters.

This is Reynolds’ first visit to and performance in Houston, Texas. He admits he has little knowledge of Houston’s artistic output, and is tremendously excited to get to know the city. With a music and multidisciplinary scene that includes experimental music hosted by the Houston Museum for African American Culture, Nameless Sound, and the aforementioned Musiqa, to the recently lauded production of Dead Man Walking by the Houston Grand Opera, creative programming by several smaller opera companies, chorale ensembles and chamber groups including the Grammy nominated Ars Lyrica, Houston should be a destination of choice for experimental musicians from other parts of the U.S. and the world. H-Town is beating the drum loudly. The question is, are you listening?

Musiqa presents Answers to Questions with violinist Todd Reynolds. February 17, 2011, 6:30 pm, at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose. Admission is Free.

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I really enjoyed Q2’s broadcast tonight of New Sounds Live, a concert at Merkin Hall by the Bang on a Can All Stars that featured works by Nik Bartsch, Oscar Bettison, Christine Southworth, Michael Nyman, and David Longstreth. The first in a hopefully ongoing series of collaborations between Q2 and Merkin Hall, it was also a featured event in this week’s Composers Now festival.

I particularly enjoyed the Bettison work, The Afflicted Girl, in part because it’s quite affecting; but it also helps that I was able to study in advance and follow along with a perusal score sent over by the kind folks at Boosey. Funded by BoaC’s Peoples’ Commissioning Fund, the piece is what Bettison calls an “anti-pastorale.” Its based on a quote from Peter Ackroyd’s London: the Biography. It describes an afflicted girl frequently found in a busy thoroughfare, seemingly oblivious to the cacophony around her. Or, as in Bettison’s posits in his piece, perhaps she found a kind of music amidst the chaos.

Clangor is Bettison’s daily bread: many of his works employ junk metal percussion. The Afflicted Girl involves copious percussion batteries, prepared piano, a keyboard tuned a quarter tone flat, taped echoes of the ensemble, plenty of electric guitar harmonics, and a Shapey-esque scordatura tuning of the cellos C string – down to G for rumbled slackening. What’s more, all the players double on bicycle bells!

Alternately assaultive and contemplative, rhythmically charged and, briefly, eerily reposeful, its a demanding, challenging, harrowing, and memorable work.

Bang on a Can. Photo: Christine Southworth

Bang on a Can. Photo: Christine Southworth

Sad you missed out on the Q2 broadcast? Fear not: the performance will be featured on a March broadcast of New Sounds.

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