Bang on a Can All-Stars – More Field Recordings – Cantaloupe 

From footsteps to snoring, space exploration to quilting: here’s another unique chapter in the Bang on a Can All-Stars oeuvre.

Bang on a Can All-Stars – More Field Recordings [TrackList follows] – Cantaloupe CA21136 (2-CDs), 38:55, 37:43 [10/27/17] ****:

(Ashley Bathgate – cello; Robert Black – bass; Vicky Chow – piano, keyboards; David Cossin – drums, percussion; Mark Stewart – guitar; Ken Thomson – clarinet, bass clarinet)

Patterns are important to the two-disc More Field Recordings, the second installment of the Bang on a Can All-Stars’ ongoing series. More Field Recordings is like the first Field Recordings collection released in 2015 by the Cantaloupe label. Both incorporate classical and electronic influences and use found sounds, audio samples and archival audio elements as an underpinning and/or starting point. While the patterned groundwork is the same, this edition widens the idea of field recordings into a richer and more exploratory degree of sounds and music which includes ambient qualities, unconventional components and electro-acoustic segments. The key factor which aligns the 13 disparate pieces on More Field Recordings is that each composer was requested to go out into the world to find either new or old sounds and then act on those sounds with new compositions, a sort of negotiation between creativity and what they discovered ‘out in the field’.

Participants comprise Pulitzer Prize-winning Caroline Shaw; Jace Clayton (who is probably best recognized by his pseudonym of DJ/rupture); current Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche; prolific contemporary classical music composer and arranger Nico Muhly; experimental, electronic and industrial noise maker Ben Frost; multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed Parry of Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire; Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir; electronic musician Dan Deacon; French-Canadian composer René Lussier; and others.

Shaw begins the first disc with the seven-minute “Really Craft When You,” which hems together the accented and cadenced voices of 1970s North Carolina and Virginia quilters talking about their craft fused with David Cossin’s drum beat, Mark Stewart’s riffing electric guitar and Ken Thomson’s lyrical clarinet. The result is a gradually escalating melding of spoken word and a repeating musical motif. Clayton’s acoustic-electronic piece, “Lethe’s Children,” (named after the legendary river of forgetfulness) is altogether different. Jace asked the six members of the Bang on a Can All-Stars about the first song they memorized as young children and then Jace restructured fragments from those songs in a spacious flow of music which utilizes Ashley Bathgate’s cello and Robert Black’s bass against Stewart’s distorted guitar and Vicky Chow’s digital keyboards and effects. At times the five-minute “Lethe’s Children” showcases an intriguing juxtaposition akin to Ennio Morricone’s early 60s soundtracks. One of the most aggressive tracks on CD 1 is Kotche’s madly twisting “Time Spirals,” which includes field recordings from parades, festivals, protests and declamatory electronic toys: sounds which Kotche collected while touring and traveling the world. The first disc closes with Muhly’s “Comfortable Cruising Altitude,” a mollifying number which interlaces audio from overnight airliner journeys (including screaming babies) with sometimes soothing and sometimes dissonant but always complementary music.

Frost commences disc two with the lengthiest cut, the harsh and strident, eight-minute “Negative Ghostrider.” This discordant experience blends severe audio from the Northrop X-47B, an experimental, unmanned strike fighter-sized aircraft Frost saw in action. “Negative Ghostrider” is a violent work abounding with heavy and hard-hitting sounds, parapets of uproar and wailing din. That all this clamor was created by cello, bass, keyboards, drums, percussion, guitar and clarinet is astounding. At the opposite edge of the audio spectrum is Parry’s “The Brief and Neverending Blur,” a beautiful chamber music composition based on a recording of a piano improvisation played at the speed of the composer’s own breath. “The Brief and Neverending Blur” has a nuanced reserve highlighted by Cossin’s percussion, Chow’s echo-laden piano, Black’s sedate bass notes, Thomson’s ambient clarinet and Stewart’s lightly enveloping guitar. Thorvaldsdottir literally utilizes the sound of a field during the aptly-named “Fields,” which starts with footsteps crunching through frozen ground. “Fields” has a mysterious impression. The noir-ish track—accentuated by elegiac cello, piano arpeggios, tapping percussion and bits of angular guitar—mirrors Iceland’s desolate, icy splendor. An even colder environment was the root source for Deacon’s electronic soundscape “Sago An Ya Rev,” which manipulates a transcription of a NASA Voyager recording. Deacon’s cosmic and darkly droning piece progresses carefully via frictional harmonies and reverberant, metallic noises. It’s hard to imagine this digital-seeming music was fashioned with acoustic as well as electronic instruments. CD 2 ends with Lussier’s “Nocturnal,” which integrates snores. “Nocturnal” has a quirky arrangement which has an unusual level of humor and vibrantly-colored music. Listeners might think of Carl Stalling’s scores for the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon shorts produced by Warner Bros and Disney’s Silly Symphonies series of animated short films.

The limited-edition double-CD album is housed in a six-paneled thick-paper package designed by Russell Mills, who has also done album artwork for Nine Inch Nails and Roger Eno. The panels appear to use photos of distressed and rusted metal which sustains the CD’s thematic substructure of applying something found in an outside environment.

TrackList:

CD 1
Really Craft When You (by Caroline Shaw)
Panitao (by Gabriella Smith)
Lethe’s Children (by Jace Clayton)
the ontology of an echo (by Paula Matthusen)
Time Spirals (by Glenn Kotche)
Courtyards in Central Beijing (by Zhang Shouwang)
Comfortable Cruising Altitude (by Nico Muhly)

CD 2
Negative Ghostrider (by Ben Frost)
The Brief and Neverending Blur (by Richard Reed Parry)
Fields (by Anna Thorvaldsdottir)
Sago An Ya Rev (by Dan Deacon)
Hybrid Ambiguities (by Juan Felipe Waller)
Nocturnal (by René Lussier)

—Doug Simpson

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