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Bang on a Can All-Stars – “Field Recordings” – various composers/soloists (TrackList follows) – Cantaloupe Music CA21108, 71:28 CD + 30:35 DVD (Distr. by Naxos) (5/12/2015) ****:

Bang on a Can’s reputation as one of the most cutting edge, progressive and talented new music ensembles out there for the past nearly thirty years is solid and well deserved. Many of the original composer-performers to have begun with BOAC are now seen as some of the most respected and innovative in the country, including that of one of the founding members, David Lang.

The concept to this dual audio-video release is fascinating in its creativity and really begs the bulk of the attention; some excellent and thought provoking short works notwithstanding.

Essentially, “Field Recordings” collects the Bang on a Can All-Stars’ interpretations of newly commissioned works by Tyondai Braxton, Mira Calix, Anna Clyne, Bryce Dessner, Florent Ghys, Michael Gordon, Jóhann Jóhannsson, David Lang, Christian Marclay, Steve Reich, Todd Reynolds, Julia Wolfe and Nick Zammuto. According to project lead David Lang, ‘composers from different parts of the music world’ were asked to find a recording of something that already exists — a voice, a sound, a faded scrap of melody — and then write a new piece around it.

The results are varied wildly and highly eclectic. There is a recording of John Cage reading a section of his “Diary” under within the bizarre textures of An Open Cage by Florent Ghys. Seven Sundays by Todd Reynolds uses samples of post-Depression era sermons by fiery southern Baptist preachers. Steve Reich’s offering The Cave of Machpelah uses one of Reich’s favored sources; Old Testament Judaism, in this case the ambient sounds of the revered site in the title – one of the only places where Jews and Muslims worship side by side.

This is but a sample and it is not fair in my mind to try to describe or evaluate each piece on its own. The concept and the amazingly unexpected diversity is the star of this collection. Of course, I did have personal favorites; such as Reich’s piece, but also the surreal and somewhat disturbing nightmarish mix of sounds from a New York casino in Tyondai Braxton’s Casino Trem. I also greatly enjoyed the sweet but somewhat unsettling A Wonderful Day by Anna Clyne as well as Bryce Dessner’s ode to American nature as professed by the president of Black Mountain College in his Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27.

I can’t honestly say I disliked or became restless with any of the works in this eclectic and wonderfully odd collection. Some listeners not attuned to the newest of ‘new music’ may not agree. I also enjoyed the DVD with five videos that accompany (or complete) the works by Michael Gordon, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Bryce Dessner, Mira Calix and Nick Zammuto. Of these, I personally enjoyed the ‘airborne ecstasy’ of Mira Calix’s meeting you seemed easy.

One more reason to acquire this gold mine of ‘what’s new’ is to, indeed, hear and see works by composers who are not yet ‘household names’; such as Florent Ghys, Mira Calix, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Christian Marclay (for me.) In many ways, this really is an album for a niche audience but I encourage even those who usually shy away from “new music” to try this. You may be pleasantly surprised.

TrackList (CD audio):

  1. 1. Julia Wolfe: Reeling
  2. 2. Florent Ghys: An Open Cage
  3. 3. Michael Gordon: Gene Takes a Drink
  4. 4. Christian Marclay: Fade to Slide
  5. 5. David Lang: unused swan
  6. 6. Tyondai Braxton: Casino Trem
  7. 7. Jóhann Jóhannsson: Hz
  8. 8. Todd Reynolds: Seven Sundays
  9. 9. Steve Reich: The Cave of Machpelah
  10. 10. Bryce Dessner: Maximus to Gloucester,Letter 27
  11. 11. Mira Calix: meeting you seemed easy
  12. 12. Anna Clyne: A Wonderful Day

TrackList (DVD):

  1. 1. Michael Gordon: Gene Takes a Drink
  2. 2. Jóhann Jóhannsson: Hz
  3. 3. Bryce Dessner: Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27
  4. 4. Mira Calix: meeting you seemed easy
  5. 5. Nick Zammuto: Real Beauty Turns

—Daniel Coombs