Tag Archives: Christian Marclay

How Bang On A Can Rejuvenated New York’s Improvisational Spirit

Bang On A Can

New York in the 1970s was a crazed, creative zone. Composer-improvisers like George E. Lewis shared venues with writers of fully-notated classical works, like Steve Reich, and post-punk experimenters like Rhys Chatham. But by the late ‘80s, the underground had atomized; the all-welcoming, genre-agnostic community had splintered into a collection of discrete camps. Classical minimalists, turntablists, and post-punk pioneers were still putting in work, but they rarely occupied the same stages. When conservatory grads Julia Wolfe, Michael Gordon, and David Lang first arrived in that late ‘80s New York scene, they found the lack of cohesion crushing in its sadness. They wanted to bring that not-so-old New York collaborative spirit back.

Over the 30 years that followed, their collective—dubbed Bang On A Can—would help rejuvenate that communal vibe. Over time, other composer-based collectives sprang up around them, emulating their pan-stylistic values. Artists on their own label, Cantaloupe, won Pulitzer prizes for music. They would collaborate with a wide variety of experimentalists, including Meredith Monk and Thurston Moore—while also helping to realize ambitious works that had never been performed previously (like composer Anthony Braxton’s piece for 100 tubas).

This summer, the collective will celebrate their 30th anniversary with an eight-hour marathon at the Brooklyn Museum. The Bang On A Can founders have also begun to make their deep archive of live recordings available, exclusively on Bandcamp, for those who join the Cantaloupe label’s subscription program. The influence of the Bang On A Can marathons can be seen in other underground gathering grounds, like Knoxville’s Big Ears Festival. Thanks to the new archive, you can visit some of their earliest concerts.

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Okkyung Lee and Christian Marclay Blend Cello and Turntables to Bracing Effect

Okkyung Lee. Photo courtesy of veitliveit.

Okkyung Lee. Photo courtesy of veitliveit.

Cellist Okkyung Lee is known for her ability to extract a wild variety of sounds from her instrument—while an album of her original compositions might showcase her graceful playing, if you see her live, you’ll find that her reputation as an avant-garde shredder is well earned. Turntablist, instrument-maker, and visual artist Christian Marclay has a similarly wide-ranging aesthetic. He’s collaborated with Thurston Moore. He’s been feted by the Whitney Museum of American art for his “graphic scores” (perhaps best thought of as collages that can prompt musical improvisation). And he’s perhaps the most famous turntablist outside the hip-hop idiom. Starting in the late ‘70s, Marclay pioneered the use of scratching for noise-music purposes. Viewing the LP as an instrument, he eventually created his own custom-made vinyl—often by splicing together sections from different 12-inch records, and thus creating new, collage-style platters.

Lee and Marclay have collaborated a number of times before, but their new, improvised album, Amalgam, on Northern Spy, is a highlight in both of their catalogues. Drawn from a 2014 live performance at London’s Cafe Oto, it offsets passages of startling cacophony with sublime, sedate meditations. We spoke with both globe-trotting musicians individually and, in the collage-mad spirit of their latest effort, spliced their answers together.

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