Pamela Z's Home Page | Pamela Z Press index | contact

The Village VOICE

June 2, 1998

Gang Bang
Bang on a Can All-Stars: Knitting Factory

the village VOICE

By Kyle Gann


The Bang on a Can festival began in 1986-87, the year I joined the Voice, and I guess it says somcthing about how much weÕve both aged that they opted not to give a marathon this year and I was happy not to sit through one. Instead, they distilled their offerings into one six work concert and, by biting off less than they might have chewed, presented onc of their most compelling events ever. The intcndcd highlights were the results of their "People's Commissioning Fund" whereby curators Julia Wolfe, Michael Gordon, and David Lang use the money you donate to commission new works for their ensemble, the Bang on a Can All-Stars. As clarinetist Evan Ziporyn said in introducing the concert, this puts the power to commission in the hands of the people. Well not exaaactly, because Wolfe, Gordon, and Lang still choose the actual composers, but I'll concede that by bypassing major institutions they open up the field to some rabble-rousing newcomers who otherw ise might get zilch.

Not true of Bay Area electronic pertormance artist Pamela Z, however. She came to her BOAC commission fresh from having won the highly selective and quite lucrative Herb A1pert Award. One danger of commissioning ensemble works from do-it-yourself Downtowners like Z is that it might invoke the Peter Principle: composer of perfectly nice electrosongs finds her level of incompetence in trying to orchestrate for chamber group. But Z can keep, searching for her incompetence level, for her The Schmetterling drew from the All-Stars a cheery texture of ostinatos as charming, and whimsica1 as her solo songs. As the gang plunked away at bouncing melodies, Z described an insect called the Schmetterling (German for butterfly, but more evocative if you didnÕt know that), easily mistaken for a flower. Having caught one one day, she crooned, she accidentally gasped and breathed it into her lungs, from whence it eventually escaped, and the song was over.

Another composer the Peter Principle could have tripped up and didn't was Phil Kline, although his piece wasn't one of the new commissions. As IÕve often detailed, Kline usually works with boomboxes either recording each other or moving through space to create amazing textures. In Esquisite Corpses, though, he had the All-Stars playing in sync with a taped background of bell sounds increasing in richness and complexity. The postminimalist patterns on guitar, bass, piano, and so on were vigorous and catchy, eventually enlivened by Steven SchickÕs rock drumming. But the most gorgeous moments, with an effect like the heavens opening up, were when the ensemble slowly faded out and the taped bells, hitherto all but drowned out emerged ringing in bright, sensuous cacophony. Kline has proved once and for all that he is a major new composer. Other pieces, if less ecstatic, were still rich. Among the commissions, Dan PlonseyÕs The Plonsey Episodes was chaotically comical, fusing pop and neoclassic elements in a riotous satire. I loved the opening of Virgil Moorefield's Arrival of the Crows, in which the players sustained growling tones that throbbed like the beating effects in an Alvin Lucier close-frequencyexperiment. Other works I've reviewed the All-Stars playing before including Nick Didkovsky's AmaliaÕs Secret and Glenn Branca's densely microtonal Movement Within, were performed with a gutsy panache that showed how solidly the.All-Stars have matured as an ensemble. Marathon again next year? Maybe, but these small, concentrated doses are filling enough.


Pamela Z's Home Page | Pamela Z Press index | contact


updated 2/8/09 3:17 PM