Tag Archives: Michael Gordon

The Best Contemporary Classical Albums of 2018

2018-best-of-classical-1244The taxonomy of contemporary classical music—new music, contemporary music, whatever you want to call it—is a thorny issue. That ambiguity makes rating the year’s best offerings difficult, if not impossible, but embracing the big picture of musical diversity these 10 albums, listed alphabetically, have delivered all year long—they provided excitement, asked questions, and delivered disparate sorts of beauty. These are the best contemporary classical albums of 2018. 

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Best of Bandcamp Contemporary Classical: June 2018

classical-1244

The taxonomy of contemporary classical music—new music, contemporary music, whatever you want to call it—is a thorny issue. But every two months, we’ll take a look at some of the best composer-driven music to surface here on Bandcamp, that which makes room for electronic experimentation, improvisation, and powerful takes on old classics.
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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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Album of the Day: Various Artists, “Timber Remixed”

Michael Gordon’s 2011 recording Timber was a transfixing masterwork played on unusual instruments: six wooden 2x4s—the kind you’d buy at a lumber store—each cut to different lengths in order to summon different pitches. For Timber Remixed, the means of music-making have been expanded greatly, thanks to the range of remixers, but the woody simplicity is never lost.

Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (the man recently tapped to score the forthcoming Blade Runner 2) opens with a meditative take featuring the reverb-intensive sounds of the planks (which are amplified) mixed with a warmly seething organ that asserts itself but never gets in the way. Ambient maestro Tim Hecker turns in a highly detailed mix that hones in on each of the many manic mallet strikes, and spins them around to create broadened soundscape. The remix by Fennesz introduces some of his dreamy, disruptive digital fizz, while Oneohtrix Point Never adds elements of piano, strings, and insectoid electronics.

The stylistic range is more varied than might be expected, from rhythmic noise (via Greg Saunier, drummer of the art-prog band Deerhoof) to delay-effect fantasias (Ian Williams of Battles) to an appealingly inappropriate piece featuring acoustic guitar (the rarely-not-eccentric Squarepusher). From a piece of music made to explore the surprising resonant qualities of wood, many branches grow.

Andy Battaglia