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ClassicsOnline Home » BANG ON A CAN ALL-STARS: Big Beautiful Dark and Scary
Bang on a Can/Big, Beautiful, Dark, and Scary/ Cantaloupe
The new Bang On A Can CD, Big Beautiful Dark and Scary, is a great way to commemorate the 25th anniversary of an amazing music phenomenon, both as a performer collective and a nurturing home for post-minimalist composers. Who knew 25 years ago, that the establishment of BOAC would spawn so much great music, not just from the founders, but their minimalist and post-minimalist American and European parents and now, more recently, their own post-minimalist children. Most importantly, inside this vast network of organizational and promotional aplomb, is cocooned/caressed the 4 most important American composers writing today. Historically, it is difficult to find 4 composers so obsessed with similar compositional preoccupations, living in the same town, managing to get along and yet all have a distinctive voice within their idiom. (Didn’t the Russian 5 and French 6 all eventually shoot each other literally and metaphorically?)
The first CD in BBDAS is dedicated to the New York 4 and if I was to be too reductive, this music is all about heavily metered, expanding/contracting passacaglias. This ‘narrow’ process opens itself to some of the freshest, newest, and best orchestration been done by anyone. The other element that makes the music/orchestration so good, is these people have been working with this ensemble for 25 years. One wonders how much more good music would be written if all composers had there own collective or ensemble—or all wrote for standardized ensembles (pre 20th C.)
The CD opens with the uber-intense Julia Wolfe title track, Big Beautiful Dark and Scary which features a very scary, chromatic, metered, upward-progression over an omnipresent pedal. The orchestration is so much choking smoke and claustrophobia incurred by distortion, cymbal tremolos, fuzzy doublings and blurred canons. Each time the progression expands in intensity at the top end while introducing more more relaxed material at the beginning, a lot of very tasty cross-rhythms start emerging while a torture clarinet countersubject inverts the progression---going the other way like some falling man. This is a great piece and the orchestration's uniqueness comes from Ms. Wolfe’s intimate relation with this group.
The Second track is David Lang’s Sunray and just as Wolfe’s track is a blurry rage, this is a transparent and childlike as a music box. It features a really fresh gorgeous progression (very Lang) and pristinely transparent, Renaissance-like orchestration (also another metered passacaglia). Again the passacaglia gradually expands/loops creating longer and longer phraseologies. There is beautiful play between the recorder and clarinet, producing blurring gossamer over-top. The piece eventually evolves into variations, utilizing increasingly violent and soft movements. The final variation features the bass clarinet doubling the electric guitar’s cantus firmus, building to an intensely bizarre bending and skewing of the CF (which Lang always does so convincingly). The 3rd piece is uniquely Michael Gordomore....
By Kraig Lamper
American Record Guide
By Jay Batzner
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BANG ON A CAN ALL-STARS: Big Beautiful Dark and Sc...