A Music Marathon

Bang on a Can comes to Philly with 10 hours of uninterrupted live music from all over the globe.

By Elliott Sharp
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 7, 2010

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Major Drums: the 12-piece marching band Asphalt Orchestra will play at the Philadelphia Bang on a Can marathon

Photo by Stephanie Berger

On Sept. 12, in the midst of the hyperspeed pace of modern life, Bang on a Can (BOAC) asks Philadelphia for the first time to join them for 10 hours of a broad range of live music, including pieces by Steve Reich, Björk, Charles Mingus, Thurston Moore, Frank Zappa, Matmos and a wide selection of composers of new music, at the Philly Fringe.

Ten hours is child’s play compared to past BOAC marathons in their home city of New York; a recent one went for 27. Performances of this magnitude are a deliberate challenge for modern audiences, given our in-flux expectations about the way music should be experienced. The quick, mobile fix of the mp3 and three-minute pop single are compatible with the grueling demands of modern life in a way that live music is not. The isolated, individual pleasure of the iPod is increasingly supplanting the much older goal of live music—an ecstatic, communal experience, one that BOAC hopes to generate and examine this weekend.

Since its 1987 founding by New York-based composers and musicians Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe, BOAC brought diverse arrays of contemporary composers and performers together under one roof to challenge and welcome audiences, in hopes of forming a community around new and innovative musics that would otherwise be banished to their own corners of the genre-schoolyard, mostly unheard.

“We want to develop a community of listeners,” says co-founder Julia Wolfe, whose work will be performed by the Signal Ensemble. “When we started, there wasn’t really a strong audience for new music—it was very limited. We wanted to crack that open, give a sense of how large and varied the music world of new ideas can be.”

Despite the obvious challenges, BOAC’s goal of presenting unfamiliar new-music performances of unconventional length has been, largely, a success.

“They have created a social space that is less intimidating and paternalistic than the traditional orchestra or concert hall,” says Adam Sliwinski, of Brooklyn-based quartet So Percussion, the group that will sound the spare first notes of the Philly marathon with “Drumming Part 1” by Pulitzer-winning minimalist innovator Steve Reich. “The marathon functions differently, as a smorgasbord of what’s going on right now in the experimental, classical and indie scenes.”

It’s this diversity that makes BOAC such a singular experience. The Philadelphia marathon will include pieces by a broad range of composers, like jazz luminary Charles Mingus, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Björk, and Frank Zappa. Sliwinski’s So Percussion, for instance, will perform works by Radiohead-sampled computer-music composer Paul Lansky and an original, collaborative piece with electronic duo Matmos in addition to the Reich.

Among the other 17 groups and various artist configurations performing these category-shattering pieces are free-jazz heroes the Sun Ra Arkestra, spazzed-out experimentalists Normal Love, 12-piece marching band the Asphalt Orchestra, the BOAC All-Stars (an ensemble hand-selected by the organization’s founders) and jazz pianist Uri Caine’s trio with trumpeter Ralph Alessi and percussionist Jim Black. With this bold spectrum of unique artistic voices, audiences can expect a truly remarkable sonic encounter that delights as much as it confronts contemporary modes of experiencing music.

“We want the audience to have a kind of sacred experience,” proclaims Wolfe. “Time and duration contribute to really stepping outside the norm, which is rushed and hectic and full of business.”

For 10 hours, BOAC will challenge the hurried pace and soundtrack of our lives and provide a glimpse at a community founded on the power of music. What we do after that is, as always, up to us.

2pm-midnight

$25

World Cafe Live

3025 Walnut St.

215.222.1400

worldcafelive.com

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