The Bang On A Can All Stars Premier New Work @ The Ecstatic Music Festival

Bang on a Can is a multifaceted organization that’s confines include not only “All Stars” ( a performance ensemble who perform new and contemporary music in multitudes of settings all over the world) but also of the People’s Commissioning Fund, The Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival, the Asphalt Orchestra and perhaps most famously, the twelve hour summer marathon they throw every year that incorporates progressive and trail blazing musical artists who make work in all forms of musical styles. In other words, Bang on a Can is one of the most obvious choices that the Ecstatic Music Festival could dedicate an evening of their concerts to, but is also probably the most essential. Bang on a Can’s ideas about the fusion of/importance of progressive, contemporary music are very similar to those of the festival and I doubt that Argeo Ascani, the festival’s coordinator, would have had as much support for the festival, nor would it have possibly been conceived at all without the groundwork that Bang on a Can has laid out in this sort of hybrid music field over the past two decades.

In 1987 composers Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe founded Bang on a Can and dedicated it “to commissioning, performing, creating, presenting and recording contemporary music. With an ear for the new, the unknown and the unconventional…”. Twenty some years later, they are still kicking and strongly and are one of the most praised and recognized contributers and enablers of contemporary music today. Their 12 hour long, summer marathons of new music are near legendary now, and although I have yet to attend one, it is something that the other nights performance by the “All Stars” and the EMF have both made clear that I must.

“The Bang on a Can All Stars” are a chamber music group that straddle the line between classical and rock ensemble. Made up of piano, cello, bass, electric guitar, clarinet (doubling on various saxophones) and percussion of all traditions, shapes and sizes, their sound is diverse, ever shifting and often startlingly diverse. Often times as they play you can’t tell where which sound is coming from, whether it’s acoustic or electric, percussion or string instrument etc. The unusual line up creates all sorts of wonderful possibilities and the group continually premiers new work that is specifically commissioned for them as well as accompanying orchestras, and musical artists of incredible variety.

Getting to see the group perform in full for the first time after hearing about them for years not only justified their acclaim, but even went beyond that to inspire a search through their back catalogue. Getting this written at all proved more and more difficult as I fell into a black hole of youtube videos and reviews of past performances.

Thursday night’s performance with them incorporated the premiers of three new works commissioned by The People’s Commissioning fund; Nick Brooke‘s Menace (Sousa Medley), Karsh Kale‘s Crawl Walk Fly Run and Bryce Dessner‘s O Shut your eyes against the wind

There were other pieces from the ensembles repertoire that were played amongst the premiers (Steve Martland‘s Horses of Instruction was a really brilliant highlight of the evening) but for the purposes of this write up I’ll just talk briefly about the new works.

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St. Marks Church Celebrates 40 Years of Patti Smith

My night of mysterious geometry began in line waiting for my friends to show up, the people in line in front and behind me also awaited friends and I eves dropped as everyone greeted loved ones while recounting the influence Patti Smith had over their lives. We waited for an hour before the doors finally opened and we all filed into the main hall, everyone a bit frost bitten after having frozen for poetry. People kept filing in until the main hall was packed and I’m pretty sure it was a full house – young and old fans side by side celebrating the first night Patti Smith took the stage as a poet and songstress 40 years ago on Bertolt Brecht‘s birthday, February 10th, 1971 at St. Marks Church. To think there was a time when the magic of Patti Smith wasn’t readily available is mind boggling considering by the time I was born she had already gone from awkward poet/songstress to famed rock n roll legendary, and by the time I was acutely aware of her presence she was being inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Amazingly, her magick seems more alive and real than ever, sure she often goofed between songs and poems about what a terrible musician she remains but her voice seemed stronger and resonated with more passion, power, and wavering fragility than ever before. Even though she maintained a persona of kindness and humility it seems impossible for her to mask her radiance, it oozes out her skin.

Janet Hamill opened the night, offering the audience a funny story about where she was 40 years ago, far from NYC, in San Francisco experimenting with MDMA. Her every line seemed to come from a place of reverence and appreciation for what the community surrounding the Poetry Project has stood for the past 40 years. She talked about giving readings in the other rooms of the church many years ago, and I just kept thinking how nice it is to know that in such a cruel city resides a group of people with a sense of reverence for poetry. I don’t have to go see a 3D movie in order to take a voyage, I simply have to go downtown and remember a person can have nothing but a book of poetry and somehow those poems can unravel the nothing into just about everything.

40 years ago Patti Smith opened her performance at St. Mark’s with “Oathe’ then her and Lenny played “Mack the Knife” and in celebration of those first steps the two took the stage and retook them. It was like watching long lovers renew their vows. Both of them looking so much older than the posters of them from the 70’s but still they both radiated with a youthful energy that seemed to come from the profound love both of them have for the work they’ve created over the years together. Whenever I see artists that have become legendary I always hope that they’ll still seem to enjoy what they do since their work often means so much to so many. Seeing Patti and Lenny on stage did not disappoint. I had tingles running throughout all my nervous system. The world felt extremely beautiful. Throughout the show both of them offered silly antidotes about all thats happened along the way to where they are today. Amazingly, with all the fame that comes with being a national treasure, Patti never wavered from the truly American values her work celebrates: humility, humor, empathy, and creativity. She gave homage and praise to many of the important, influential people that have helped her along the way. Most notably: William Burroughs, Robert Mapplethorpe, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Maria Schneider, Paul Getty, and many many more. Appropriately, the night ended on a classical note, everyone in attendance clapping and singing along to the song “GLORIA” and as everyone joined forces and chimed in G.L.O.R.I.A., again Patti raised her hands into the air and broke free from the verse into a long freewheelin’ babblin’ rant, quintessentially Patti Smith, celebrating the beauty and power of poetry.

Dan Deacon and So Percussion Join Forces at the Ecstatic Music Festival

Seeing Dan Deacon and So Percussion play at the Ecstatic Music Festival reminded me of all the times I was young and joined drum circles down by the piers of Southern California. It’s the only real place where business guys on their lunch break can hang out with homeless dudes floating through the afternoon on acid. The drum circle offers equality because there is no real head or tail. It’s an inclusive space for all walks of life to join together to rattle and bang out sounds. The main objective is to share rhythm by tuning into each other and ones self. Drum circles offer space for group consciousness to grow so that a collective voice can emerge from communally shared rhythm. Most of the drum circles that have snared me into a prolonged afternoon lull, coupled with a joint or five, have been full of amateur drummers banging out simple beats that could be easily followed. Usually there’s some cool-experienced-guru type with a few extra drums or rattles willing to share with the estranged passerbyers so that they may partake in “becoming one with the universe” through the experience of banging on shit with a buncha strangers. Unlike drumming groups and troupes, the drum circle is an end in itself rather than the preparation for a performance. The Dan Deacon and So Percussion segment of the Ecstatic Music Festival brought everyone in attendance together similarly to a drum circle in different kind of communal, rhythmic experience.

So Percussion started the night with five songs improvised in conjunction with absurd short videos friends of the band created. For those not familiar with So Percussion, they experiment with drums, percussion instruments and found objects that make interesting noises, using them to explore the realms of improvisational performance. They invited a couple friends to join them for the evening, having them stand in for a missing bandmate at the hospital with his wife and newborn baby. Their set opened with a pretty straightforward drum circle and then then welcomed the audience into more experimental work. Their second song began with the audience helping band members sing “Happy Birthday Elsie” into a cellphone to newborn Elsie. Congrats! And lucky Elsie got the song and video “Toothpaste Bit” dedicated to her. The song “Toothpaste Bit” incorporated such varied instruments as an electric toothbrush, drums, a computer, a metronome, and an electric guitar. In keeping with babies and the starry eyed quality of being young, they next played a video of an infant playing with an orange balloon, about twenty or thirty orange balloons were tossed to the audience and I watched as young and old audience members alike swatted the balloons back into the air. Much of their work is exploratory, and band members explained that they try to use the places they go – airplanes, hotel rooms, cars – as guideposts to make music from. They closed their opening set playing along to a video of one of their inspirations, Martin Schmidt (of Matmos fame), wearing a white shirt and black blow tie, playing with shakers, blowing buzzers, and shaking rattles in unsuspecting intervals.

When Dan Deacon took the stage he returned the audiences attention back to cellphones by holding two cellphones together so they could create feedback, showing us how we were to do this when we reached a certain point of the evenings next activity. He then had score sheets passed out to the audience so everyone in attendance could form an ensemble, encouraging everyone that it was going to be a big show with a large audience and even though we hadn’t practiced we’d do great. Once everyone got their score sheet we began to conduct “Take A Deep Breath.” Dan had everyone present synchronize their cell phone times and then set their alarms to 8:21. At 8:21 as everyone’s phone alarms sounded we all began enacting the 24 step instruction sheet for the new experimental noise band we all formed.

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Soft Spot Debuts New Songs @ The Cake Shop

We’ve been friends with Soft Spot for a while now and we’ve always loved them, but seeing them play last night at the cake shop made it clearer than ever that their evolution is in full blossom. Their grace, momentum and exuberance has teamed up so seamlessly with their musicianship that watching them play now brings to forefront things that were only hinted at when we first started watching them play. They seem to have effortlessly found a place all of their own in the midst of some of our favorite bands today. Evoking the immediacy of Future Islands (who they covered last night beautifully) and the witchy femininity of Beach House with a more progressively rock sound than either, they are finally riding a wave of transcendence all of their own. Though live performances will be rare in the coming months due to cold weather and the creation of new material, we recommend keeping your ears to the pavement and your eyes on their myspace. You want to share in this before it ends up costing you twenty dollars a ticket.

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Summer Lovin’ Part 2: The Flaming Lips, Beach House and The National

More music reporting from the depths of a generous and beautiful summer…

It had been a while since either of us had seen The Flaming Lips, but with a friend in from out of town and the universe full of strange and confused energies, we figured it was a good time to check in with one of the most consistently cool bands on the planet. The Lips have yet to disappoint either of us and Monday’s show at Central Park’s Summerstage was no exception. After all emerging from a giant, glowing vagina the Lips ripped through an epic set, hitting lots of favorite touchstones but focusing mainly on their newest album “Embryonic,” which by the way is fucking stellar and should be listened to by all of you. “Embryonic” is by far the most angular and abstract Lips album in a long time and watching them play it’s songs live only adds to the song’s intensity. All the loved Lips shtick remained intact with unparalleled projections, inflatable costumes, tons of confetti and of course the crowd surfing bubble all making welcomed appearances. Wayne talked more during this show than he has in shows I’ve seen in the past and it did pull down the energy a bit here and there but Wayne always knows the right things to say somehow. Being in Central Park with him and his band on one of the most beautiful nights of summer so far with some of our favorite people in the universe, geeking out on how much love was all around us was just about all that we could ask for in terms of a memorable evening. Singing “Do You Realize?” at the top of our lungs at the end of the night with our faces full of S&S cheesecake was even more than we could ask for. Sometimes the universe is such a simple, beautiful place.

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Summer Lovin’ Part 1: Air France and Caribou

minorprogression has been missing from the web but filling up the summer stages this past week, taking in so much live music it’s almost ridiculous.  Last week we saw Caribou and Air France totally kill it at Governers Island and PS1‘s aforementioned warm up series.  Caribou’s performance in particular was a wonderful surprise.  Their psychedelic and electronic inclinations both fed into each other beautifully, creating a more cohesive listening experience than I was really anticipating.  Spacey projections and the view of lower Manhattan and the water around it added to what was really a perfect night.

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PS1’s Warm Up Kicks off NY’s Summer of Great Music (With Photos!)

Every time I start to hate on NY summers I am confronted with the fact that more awesome music happens here during the fleeting hot weather that we call summer than in most cities whole year’s of music happenings. This summer is set up to be no exception and PS1‘s always rocking Warm Up
summer concert series kicked off last week with all the awesomeness we’ve come to expect from them. The courtyard of the former school and current modern art mecca has been transformed yet again for the summer, this time with multiple moving polls and nets that hold up tons of colored balls, water misters and dip down into a small pool for wading at it’s center.
The kick off party featured minorprogression favorites Delorean headlining as well as performances by the incredible Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang (one of our new favorites) and Glasser another recent happy discovery.

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