30 Years of Innovative Music
by Bang on a Can
Thank you for this interview.
How has the world changed and how has Bang on a Can changed with it in the last three decades? Who are the biggest supporters of Bang on a Can?
The scene is hot right now and there is a thirst for new music and new sounds. Ears have opened since the first Bang on a Can Marathon in 1987. Young musicians and composers are optimistic about making non-commercial music. The biggest fans are the ones who come expecting to listen hard and be challenged.
What are some of the most successful ideas that constantly attract new audience members?
We try to get to people who are interested in culture and art but haven’t made up their minds about music. The Marathon is always attractive because it is 8 hours + and free!
What’s the best way to describe the relationship between the Bang on a Can founders: Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe through the years? You are all amazing artists on your own right and very busy with personal projects. What has made it easy to work together for Bang on a Can for the last three decades?
We love music and we love talking to each other about music. In the course of a day David, Julie and I might call or get together to talk about someone’s piece. We float big conceptual ideas past each other and little musical licks. We are all thrilled to hear something fresh and new and weird. We’ve been having fun at this for 30 years without thinking too much about why it’s working.
The Bang on a Can Marathon’s this year is described as a "marathon concert of politics, resistance, and love." Why is it important for art in general and music in particular to reflect on and be a vital part of history in the making?
We live in this world and our mission is to elevate it. Music is a pure, direct way for people to communicate love and understanding beyond cultural, language and other artificial boundaries.
Music is rocket fuel in our search for truth and meaning. Bang on a Can’s “Found Sound Nation” has been actively engaged in musical diplomacy since 2007. I’m so happy FSN will be out at the Brooklyn Museum on May 6th, doing its thing.
Bang on a Can will host its 30th Anniversary Bang on a Can Marathon, held for the first time at the Brooklyn Museum in the Beaux-Arts Court. What’s the significance of coming to Brooklyn and choosing Brooklyn Museum for this fantastic celebration?
We are a Brooklyn-based organization and have played all kinds of crazy concerts, large and small, in Brooklyn, including 2 previous Marathons.
This year the Bang on a Can Marathon includes music from Iraq (Amir ElSaffar and his Two Rivers Ensemble), India (Brooklyn Raga Massive), Morocco (Innov Gnawa), and the Caribbean (Pan in Motion and Kendall Williams), plus Bang on a Can co-founder and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Julia Wolfe’s folk ballad Steel Hammer; performances by Oliver Lake, Laaraji, Rabbit Rabbit, and more. How exciting! What kind of work goes behind the scenes and for how long in order to secure such a remarkable line up?
We are lucky to have a great team that produces and presents these events. David, Julie and I dream these up and Kenny Savelson, Tim Thomas, Philippa Thompson, Sruly Lazaros, and a host of great people make those dreams happen. We’re also fortunate to live in an international city that is teaming with amazing musicians from all over the world.
The Marathon is also part of A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism at the Brooklyn Museum, a yearlong project that celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Women artists on this year’s marathon include music and/or performances by Meredith Monk, Julia Wolfe, Joan La Barbara, Carla Kihlstedt, Caroline Shaw, Kaki King, Kim Deal, Merrill Garbus (tUnE-yArDs), Women’s Raga Massive, and many more. Is the inclusion of women artists more prominent this year or is the focus on women artists the same year after year based on the raison d’être of Bang on a Can?
Bang on a Can has always supported and encouraged women composers and performers. It’s perfect that the Marathon lines up with A Year of Yes. We are super psyched to have legendary pioneers Meredith Monk and Joan La Barbara on the program, two women that have contributed so much to New York’s experimental musical culture.
On a personal note, what are you most looking forward to and why on May 6th? Who are the most exciting newcomers to the Bang on a Can circle of friends?
Outside of Trinidad, Brooklyn is the Steel Pan Capital-of-the-World. Kendall Williams is bringing a lot of new ideas and energy into Steel Pan music, and I wouldn’t want to miss his group Pan In Motion. Louis Andriessen, the great Dutch composer, is a long-time BoaC favorite. The Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble is coming to Brooklyn to perform his greatest piece, De Staat, which hasn’t been heard in New York in 30 years or more. De Staat takes its text from Plato’s Republic, specifically Plato’s ruminations on music’s place in society. Plato was a bit dictatorial about music, something akin to the Taliban (but a bit more intellectual). Getting to hear De Staat is a rare treat. And I am personally looking forward to hearing Women’s Raga Massive live. They’ll be closing the show at around 10PM.
The Marathon takes place from 2-10pm on May 6th in the Museum’s Beaux-Arts Court. So, music can definitely be exciting enough to keep people away from their phones and tech devices for eight hours or are phones allowed for taking pictures and live tweeting?
Definitely charge up. Take all the pictures and sound bites you want, and tweet on.