Bang On A Can Breaks Into Amazon’s Classical Top 5 with Riley’s In C



Bang on a Can Plays Terry Riley: In C
Image courtesy Bang on a Can

Bang On A Can‘s recording Terry Riley: In C, the latest release from upstart label Cantaloupe Music, has been riding the waves of amazon.com‘s top 20 classical sellers throughout November. The disc held its own and, surprising even the optimists in the new music field, peaked at #4 in mid-October sandwiched just ahead of Billy Joel‘s classical album (not actually performed by Joel, incidentally), and just behind recordings by Yo-Yo Ma and Charlotte Church. The high volume of sales was likely spurred by positive reviews in both The New York Times and on amazon.com.

This unique arrangement of In C for eleven musicians, including Chinese pipa and mandolin, was conceived of by Bang On A Can All-Star Evan Ziporyn and recorded live at a concert produced by John Schaefer and WNYC at the Wintergarden in New York City. “It was a coming together of Bang On A Can’s finest musicians,” explains Julia Wolfe, one of the group’s co-artistic directors. “We thought that this performance, filled with the subtle nuance and color that comes with musicians that have lived together with the piece, is an important realization. Terry Riley was thrilled with the recording. It’s definitely In C Bang On A Can-style.”

Wolfe also points out that the live performance “is now all the more poignant as the beautiful, resonant Wintergarden space was destroyed in the atrocity of September 11th.”

Ziporyn, who estimates that he has played In C in about 50 incarnations at this point, says that one of the things that keeps him coming back to the work is that “you always find new things in it. It’s so simple on the surface, but it’s a very, very deep piece, and it’s a very surprising piece. It’s a piece that only reveals itself when you play it, and there’s something really magical about that when it works.”

Though Riley’s work was at the forefront of the minimalist movement in the 1960s, Ziporyn sees new relevancies in it for today’s audiences since DJs and electronica artists seem to draw from minimalism and the concepts behind In C. “I had this feeling that the time for that piece was just arriving now. There were things in that piece that couldn’t have been appreciated in the ’70s and ’80s.”

On top of the unique instrumentation used in this version, Ziporyn points out that it also featured fewer people. As a result, “instead of 25 things going on at once there are only ten things going on, so you can hear the patterns actually dancing around each other and you can hear the colors actually changing, and you can hear individual players responding to each other. It becomes much more of a new kind of chamber music piece.”

It was a take on the piece that critic’s applauded, and that inspired consumers. Wolfe comments that in today’s climate, “it is so encouraging that a small independent label like Cantaloupe can have such an impact. At a time when the major labels do not want to take risks, it’s all the more important to support and make available recordings of innovative music. For Cantaloupe, the success of this recording seriously helps to grow this young company.”

Ziporyn is more pragmatic when discussing the disc’s surprise success. “If you do the kind of music we do you don’t really hope for any kind of significant record sales. You’re just really trying to get things out there for the people who are interested and in the hopes that more people will discover it.”

And getting the attention of those who are or would be interested in it is usually the biggest challenge for noncommercial music. “It’s not that people wouldn’t like it, it’s that there’s no easy means to come across it,” Ziporyn says. “It’s not played on the radio and you don’t see it in big displays when you go to the record stores. It’s just not that easy to find out about, even though it’s out there. In this case, somehow we’ve poked our heads above the surface enough for people to notice.”

Ziporyn acknowledges that the extra push needed to break through likely came from the press attention the disc received, though “that’s kind of a new thing for us too. We’re starting to find writers about this music who not only know what they’re talking about but aren’t threatened by it. I think a lot of the old-guard classical critics were a little threatened by Bang On A Can and what they thought we represented, whether we represented it or not.”

These days, it feels instead like critics are saying, “‘Here are people doing interesting music for the right reasons and maybe you should check it out.’ That doesn’t necessarily seem like it’s that much to ask for, but it’s been a long time coming.”




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Photo courtesy Bang on a Can