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UPDATE: The Whitney has made the audio of this concert available on their website (via Alex Ross).
In addition to the ethical and moral considerations, there are practical ones -- at the time Reich first started presenting his music, few classically trained players were capable of dealing with its demands. The formal and conceptual rigor of Steve Reich's compositions made groove music intellectually respectable in classical music circles, but it's the rhythmic authority of his band's own performances that made the case for his music so compelling, and served as the model for other musicians to attempt his works. The youngest band on the bill was TACTUS, the Manhattan School of Music Contemporary Ensemble.
Another work from the early 1980's, Vermont Counterpoint, is a piece for flute and prerecorded tape originally commissioned by Ransom Wilson, and it was great to have the work's originator on hand to perform it. The sequel to this work is the better-known New York Counterpoint, originally written for clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, but presented here in an arrangement by Susan Fancher for sax quartet and prerecorded tape. The gig also included one pure tape piece from Reich's early conceptual days, 1965's It's Gonna Rain, featuring a loop of a San Fransisco street preacher warning of the coming apocalyptic flood.
Pendulum Music, another '60s conceptual work, was actually premiered at the Whitney as part of an installation by Richard Serra and others. So Percussion were the workhorses of the afternoon, performing many of Reich's best-known works -- Marimba Phase, Six Marimbas, Four Organs, Clapping Music, and (in a joint performance with Alarm Will Sound) the epic Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ.
Their other performances were significantly better, especially Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ. Six Marimbas -- which, like Marimba Phase, is adapted from a the original piano version -- was another highlight. In addition to their joint effort on Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ, Alarm Will Sound contributed a version of Proverb, the most recent (1995) Reich work on the menu. Alarm Will Sound also performed the two non-Reich pieces on the program -- Bang on a Can founder Michael Gordon's Yo Shakespeare and AWS violinist Caleb Burhans's Amidst Neptune. The third generation of the Reich legacy was represented on the gig by Caleb Burhans's Amidst Neptune. Despite my misgivings about some of the performances, it was still deeply, deeply satisfying to immerse myself in Steve Reich's music for so long -- the gig lasted nearly four hours, and the two intermissions were cruelly short.
Can you switch the picture names of the female singers photo to John, Courtey and MARTHA, and the solo female singer photo to MARTHA? Without the manic intensity of me trying to liveblog every set of a 27-hour concert as it was happening, this year's Bang On A Can Marathon felt a lot more chill. Alarm Will Sound played John Adams's Son of Chamber Symphony (3rd mvt.), Harrison Birtwistle's Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum, and (much later in the night) Matt Marks's arrangement of The Beatles' (by which we really mean John Lennon's) Revolution #9.
The Adams is actually a reincarnation of a piece originally written for Kronos Quartet, later retrofitted for the Alarmists. AWS brought the same precision and intensity to the Birtwistle, a piece that is a very good example of the kind of fractured, disjunct, big-M Modernist aesthetic  I basically cannot hang with. Carmen Arcadiae… actually makes musique concrete's all-time biggest hit, Revolution #9, sound positively linear by comparison.
Lisa Moore played Annie Goslfield's Lightning Slingers and Dead Ringers, for piano and keyboard-triggered sampler.
The Crash Ensemble played Donnacha Dennehy's Gra agus Bas, Terry Riley's Loops for Ancient Giant Nude Hairy Warriors Racing Down the Slopes of Battle (3rd mvt.), and later on, Arnold Dreyblatt's Resonant Relations.
Alarm Will Sound conductor Alan Pierson was pulling double duty last night, conducting Crash as well as his own band, but he left the Celts to their own devices for Terry Riley's Loops for Giant Nude Hairy Warriors etc. I wanted to enjoy Arnold Dreyblatt's Resonant Relations -- it used an intriguing tuning system and contained some fun, oddball synth-harpsicord ostinatos -- but the music felt very stiff and episodic, without much apparent momentum or direction. Karsh Kale (tabla) and Raj Maddela (drum kit) played Timeline, which is basically a collection of sick beats, with occasional electronic pads underneath. Ensemble Nikel played Chaya Czernowin's Sahaf, and later, Sivan Cohen Elias's Riba and Ruben Seroussi's Nikel. The Bang on a Can All-Stars played selections from Evan Ziporyn's ShadowBang, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen's Convex-Concave-Concord, and a bit later, Lukas Ligeti's Glamour Girl. Ziporyn's piece gradually developed outward from a spare and hypnotic core into a joyous, swaggering, vaguely Frisellian metametric groove.
Very near the end of Convex-Concave-Concord -- after a spending a good long while suspended in quiet reflection amidst softly fluttertongued clarinet notes, indistinct guitar harmonics, and a spare simple woodblock pattern -- there is a sweet arrival point on what sounds like the work's first proper, you know, chord.
Lukas Ligeti -- yes, Gyorgy's kid -- built Glamour Girl around a slightly skewed Afro-Pop sensibility and his drummer's-eye-view of music. SIGNAL is a new new music supergroup containing members poached from Alarm Will Sound, So Percussion, Gutbucket, and NewSpeak, and conducted by Brad Lubman (last seen by me conducting Johnny Greenwood's Popcorn Superhet Receiver at a Wordless Music hit back in January). SIGNAL is dominated by younger players because, with a handful of notable exceptions, older generations of classical musicians just flat-out do not get rhythm.
They did this one on the steps at the back (see pics below fold), making the already cavernous Winter Garden sound even more like an aircraft hangar -- Alan Pierson said the walnut planks sounded like crickets. Kids these days, they love the conservatory-trained Baltimore-based electronic dance guru Dan Deacon.
Contact played Allison Cameron's 3rds, 4ths, & 5ths and Brian Eno's Discreet Music (arr. Well, one option for the Deaconites was to stick around for the Toronto-based new music band Contact, and actually, a fair number of them decided to sit tight. I say this only because for the first hour or so, I was completely under the spell of Stockhausen's remarkable work. Uberthings, via tumblr (which I gather is like Twitter, which I too do not get) "At Bang on a Can. As the place cleared out, I managed to find a seat in the front center section, just in front of the transverse aisle. Did you happen to notice if anyone in AWS, particularly in the string section, was wearing an incredibly stylish t-shirt during the performance of Revolution #9? Indeed -- I ran into the lovely and talented John Pickford Richrads on my way back from my sandwich run. Just to fill in your one food break (I took a few as well!) -- I found the Bora Yoon piece quite a mesmerizing experience.
Reich took Coltrane as his model, and for a long time the only performances of Steve Reich's music was by groups led by Steve Reich.


Once Reich became established and canonized, his music's demands become part of the skillset that today's conservatory-trained students are expected to master.
The tape part is an overdubbed flute choir -- three piccolos, three flutes, and three alto flutes, plus a recorded solo part, all pitted against Wilson's live playing. This is how Reich first discovered the phasing technique -- not with instruments, but with two tape players running at slightly different speeds, gradually going out of phase with one another. They also had a CD release gig the night before at Symphony Space, and I have to wonder if they were overextended.
Perhaps the fact that this was a collaboration with Alarm Will Sound meant that it got more rehearsal time, but this piece came off very well. So Percussion acquitted themselves much better here, and despite some occasional clams, the groove was never less than rock-solid -- it's clear they get Reich's rhythms on a visceral level.
It was attractively orchestrated and made good use of electric bass, drum kit, and wordless vocals woven into the ensemble.
But the works presented are so rewarding, and so directly relevant to anyone grappling with what Steve's legacy means to their own music-making, that for most of the concert, the passing of time seemed more illusory than ever.
The individual moments here are often really striking -- we occasionally get a little taste of a cool little angular bass line -- but that's all Birtwistle will ever allow us, just a taste. Their hookup was great and the Hinustani-meets-hiphop beats were, I believe I mentioned, sick, but man cannot live by sick beats alone.
The phrasing was irregular but flowing and organic, and Caleb's melodic instincts are unerringly sound.
Sahaf came closest -- it had some nice flittering gestures and I liked the spinning ratchets. The piece seemed to hang from an omnipresent undulating two-note figure that ran like a suspension wire through the work. They do not believe it is, at minimum, a co-equal element to pitch, and consequently, they just do not spend that much time on rhythm. Sonically, it's an incredibly striking piece, constructed almost entirely from overtone singing. I didn't want that fugue state to end, but unfortunately, I ran out of gas before the piece did. Just that next time, someone should really hook you guys up with in-ear monitors to avoid that click bleed. But it requires (and I'm sorry to keep harping on this, but it's important) rhythmic authority. Many of the young musicians featured on Sunday's hit literally grew up listening to recordings by Steve Reich and Musicians. I loved the way he varied his tone, attack, and amount of breathiness throughout the piece. The fiery words gradually become smeared and blurred, devolving first into their component phonemes, and eventually breaking down entirely into a series of raw, abrasive, inhuman sounds. The guys are all first-rate players, and I've always enjoyed their work in the past, but I wasn't the only one to notice the wrong notes in Marimba Phase. I love the vast spread of mallet percussion, from the woody depths of the grand marimba to the shiny flashes of glock at the top, combined with the subtle humanizing effect of the voices and the organ's trancelike droning. Clapping Music, which closed the concert, was delivered with enthusiasm and attitude (although nothing can really match this version).
The only rhythmic interest comes from the vibraphones, which describe constantly shifting patterns underneath the voices.
As Kyle Gann says, the piece is stripped down to almost pure rhythm -- in fact, with the sound often dominated by overdriven electric guitar and 80's keyboards, it sounds like math rock without the drums. Then he interrupts it with a few seconds of dissonant long tones, and even that quickly splinters off, motivic shards flying off in every direction. If you are Irish, it must really suck to know that there is basically no aspect of your traditional culture that has not been commodified and kitschified for global export, to the point where now all it takes is a single pennywhistle appoggiatura or a mournful celtic fiddle slide to make people want to stab a shilelagh into their ear canal. I was struck by the huge range spanned -- lots of harmonics and off- the-fingerboard playing along with the low-end -- and also the almost complete absence of pizzicato playing. But Riba, a sax guitar duet, sounded like it was composed by someone who had maybe read about improv in a couple of back issues The Wire without ever having listened to it, and thought it might be fun to try to elaborately notate what he imagined that sort of thing sounded like. Moments later brings the appearance of what sounds an awful lot like a IV chord, and you begin to suspect something might be up.
It's true that lots of people are doing that now -- that was, after all, the hook for the article -- but Owen's approach to sampling is notably risky and complex, with no room for error. It ended with the BOAC players laying out while Owen manipulated their sounds via captured loops. A singing, fluid rubato line is their comfort zone (which is great for Romantic music, not so much anything else), and  they cannot make the conceptual leap to music that requires a strong, steady pulse. For the third, they moved down to tables where they played on teacups and tuned flowerpots, the sound of which was oddly mesmerizing. This year, it was scruffy shredhead Marnie Stern, who normally plays and sings with an actual, you know, band. I really enjoyed Suzanne Bocanegra's simple but effective video, which involved a hand stacking olive-colored pieces of cardboard. Rhythmic authority isn't just the ability to play rhythms precisely, although unfortunately, many classical players aren't even equipped for that. The piano is the engine of this piece, with the other instruments often catching scattered accents, or playing lush long chords underneath. The live part also calls for the player to switch-hit on piccolo, flute and alto flute, and Wilson brought a distinct individual personality to each instrument.
What saves the piece from being a mere sonic exercise is the emotional content underlying the preacher's words, which continue to resonate long after it becomes impossible to distinguish them at all. The hums start more or less in unison and gradually go out of phase as the swinging mics gradually come to rest. The AWS Singers -- Courtney Orlando, Magdalen Kadel, Martha Cluver, Caleb Burhans, and Michael Harley -- all performed admirably, but I found the work a bit sleepy, to be  honest. The performance was tight and they made a great case for it, but this cocktail of two parts solemnity to one part ADD is not really my drink of choice.


Block that kick!") Does my fanboyish enjoyment of this arrangement make me a giant hypocrite?
I dunno if the tsuris caused her to have to abbreviate her set, but whatever the reason, it was too damn short. This is to say that Dennehy has a tough row to hoe, trying to bring old-style Irish sean nos singing into a new music context, without stumbling into cliche -- and you know what, for the most part, he succeeded.
One bit felt almost like a concerto grosso, with frantic, piercing solo tremolos interrupted by weighty tutti arrivals. Soon, there's no escaping it -- you've been gradually drawn into a hazy, slow-mo blues progression.
He's clearly spent a lot of work developing his own internal clock and does not want a drummer trying to tell him where he thinks the time is.
Instead, for the Marathon, she came out alone, set up a wall of squall with her pedals, and only occasionally pierced the veil with some scrabbly double-tapping or a pair of klunky power chords.
Jimmy Roe Roche's entertaining video accompaniment mirrored and distorted many of the Governator's greatest cinematic moments.
The arrangement didn't quite draw me in the way the All-Stars' version of Airport Music did last year, but it did make for a pleasant bit of sunrise-music.
This was about 20 minutes past the expiration of my patience, at least at that point in the Marathon. I felt like the runner who collapses 400 meters shy of the finish line, and has to drag himself across on his hands and knees.
Reich's music is only playable if everyone has a rock-solid internal click track going, as well as the ability to both lock in with the ensemble and -- when necessary -- slip off the grid while still maintaining rigorous control over your own tempo.
The PRISM guys never seemed to relax into the syncopations enough to play them with attitude and authority, and one of the consequences of this was that they kept rushing the repeated offbeats.
The piece is in two parts, and the time-lapse disintegration of the second half elicits a viscerally chilling end-of-the-world sensation. Now, I understand the appeal of presenting a work that has a direct connection to the venue, but I'll bet Pendulum Music was a lot more interesting in its original context.
The piece just flat out does not work without the subtle differences and imperfections and dirty analog wail of the vintage organs.
Often you hear what sounds like three independent tempos going on at once, but once the initial shock wears off, you begin to feel the underlying common pulse. But I found that most of the really exciting gestures were discarded far too quickly after their introduction. While I did find the piece a wee bit meandering, the closing gesture, with Iarla O Lionaird's sweet voice riding atop the ensemble's furiously cascading arpeggios made for an ecstatic release. Unfortunately, though, the microphones were also picking up the click track, which was bleeding over from the players' headphones -- being able to hear that faint click throughout robbed the piece of some of its magic. I unequivocally denounce and reject this outrageous and unacceptable behavior -- just not the underlying sentiment. You can actually get a pretty good basic sense of the processes that fuel the piece from the work's Wikipedia entry, but if you want the long version, with score excerpts, go here. Honestly, programming it immediately following the similarly quiet, tranquil, static Brian Eno piece seems a little bit perverse.
I wish we could have done it with better click track, but it was very last minute, the final click track arrived that morning! As part of this concert,  all it did was take up a large area of floorspace that might have been better used to add extra seating for the hundreds of frustrated would-be listeners who were turned away from the Whit's packed third floor gallery. Also, it was hard to tell if the many rhythmic gaffes were due to latency issues with the sampler, or sloppy playing by the group -- but either way, So Perc. The arc of this piece is so satisfying and the transitions between the four key areas are so elegant and subtle -- I can never decide whether this piece or 18 Instruments is my favorite Reich.
I guess it depends on your affinity for elegiac choral works -- I have limited patience for that stuff at the best of times, let alone in the final hour of a four-hour gig. This is a piece that could easily come off as a dry proof of concept, but the music quickly steamrolls right over any such objections.
My other concern is that most of the piece was locked into predictable, foursquare phrasing, which prevented it from building up any momentum. This piece managed to combine pointless meandering with timid bloodlessness, a combination that is guaranteed to be lethal in 100% of cases. But when it hit, it felt improbably right -- I would love to hear it again so I can pay attention to what kind of hints may or may not have been dropped along the way. Obviously, a lot of people who are very smart about music are wholly besotten with Owen's playing and songwriting. Good clean fun (with crowd-surfing, even), but seriously, this was way too short -- one 15-minute tune, and that's the whole set? For the pieces to come alive, for the music to draw the listeners in instead of just sitting there, flat and sterile, you need to have an emotional connection to rhythm. It was especially thrilling to hear Alarm Will Sound nail it with such confidence -- too often in this kind of work, you can actually hear the anxiety in the air as the players stress the rhythms, but AWS had a swaggeringly confident collective full-body groove going on. The exciting thing about Reich's work is the unpredictable rate of change -- you never know quite when a figure is going to shift slightly, or when a long-foreshadowed transition is finally going to hit. Regardless, I think this work can comfortably join Rzewski's Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues in that very, very short list of blues-inspired classical works that do not suck. Those kids came down to the Winter Garden at 4 AM to party -- what were they supposed to do now?
You need to have an intuitive sense of how tiny differences in emphasis and placement can drastically affect the character of a syncopated or repeated figure.
Caleb is a skilled and uninhibited improviser, so I was surprised that Amidst Neptune felt so regular and boxed-in.



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