The Who and Why of Bang On A Can

4. What are the Boundaries of Bang On A Can?

FRANK J. OTERI: Oh, what a great idea! Let’s get to the issue of boundaries, because, of course, there always are boundaries. You mentioned Stevie Wonder before and we talked about – we’ve been name-dropping people like Milton Babbitt and Steve Reich on the programs. I know you incorporate a lot of jazz musicians. What doesn’t get included? Is there anything that’s outside of this domain?

RealPlayer [91 seconds]
RealAudio sound clip
Excerpt from Wolfe: The Vermeer Room
(from CRI CD 628: BoaC Live, Volume 1)

JULIA WOLFE: It’s been getting broader and broader over the years, I have to say, especially in terms of instrumentation. There have been some amazing ensembles that we wouldn’t have imagined including in 1987 — anything from large gamelan orchestras to huge bagpipe ensembles. I mean it’s just amazing that people are writing new music for that. The general idea is anything that’s innovative. It’s broader than that, but I think it has to have a spark, something’s being pushed. It can be alternative rock and it’s not out of our realm. As long as it’s not catering to history, it’s not music where composers are saying: “I know what this is. I know how music goes, I’m going to be part of that. I’m going to make music too, because I know how music goes.” It’s when we listen to tapes, and we all go “What? Wow, what is that?”

FRANK J. OTERI: So have you presented alternative rock bands?

MICHAEL GORDON: We have.

JULIA WOLFE: We had one this year.

MICHAEL GORDON: Well, on our marathon concert this year we had this group called Ne Ne. They’re three Japanese women from Brooklyn. They’re vague in their promotion; they describe themselves saying: “Imagine if Steve Reich grew up on Mount Fuji listening to BBC Radio on a transistor radio that had melted” or something. [laughs] That’s how they described their music. They’ve played a few rock concerts. I think what’s happened over the years is, you know, what doesn’t get included. I think what happened really, is that when we started we were out of school, we looked at our world, and our world was Steve Reich and Milton Babbitt. That was the spectrum, and our aim was let’s put these things together. Let’s do a concert where it’s not stylistically confined to one. And that just became broader. We started including people from the experimental jazz tradition, then we started including people writing new music for classical instruments from other traditions, or new music for Chinese instruments or so forth, and then we started including people doing alternative rock that was experimental. And now we’re starting to include the kind of experimental fringe of the whole DJ scene, D.J. Spooky and stuff like that. On our benefit concert which we just had, Thurston Moore played, and Cecil Taylor played, and D.J. Spooky, and there were excerpts from John Duffy’s opera, and Pamela Z, a young composer working with electronics. . .

FRAN RICHARD: Totalism? Is that your concept?

DAVID LANG: That was never our word.

FRAN RICHARD: You didn’t coin that term?

DAVID LANG: We didn’t make that word up.

FRAN RICHARD: Do you think it makes sense.

MICHAEL GORDON: We don’t think of it in that way. The way we think of it is that. . .this is an analogy that we can use: you walk into a record store, and don’t care what kind of music you want to listen to. Want to go to the jazz department, the world music department, the classical department with the double doors. . .

FRANK J. OTERI: . . .hermetically sealed. . .[laughs]

MICHAEL GORDON: …or do you want to stay in the store which is basically the pop department? In each of those departments, there is experimental music. Most of the music in every one of those places is not experimental, but you can categorize music in different ways. You can go, well, I want to go to the store that only has that music that’s, you know, that’s not categorized like jazz or pop or classical or whatever, but it’s categorized by experimental or unusual or strange or something I’ve never heard before.

FRANK J. OTERI: We do have stores like that here in New York City. You know, Downtown Music Gallery or Other Music. . . Amoeba in Berkeley…

DAVID LANG: Amoeba is fantastic. But Other Music is really great, ’cause that’s the definition of what it is. Music that doesn’t really belong comfortably in any of the bins that commercial industry tries to push it into. Other Music is the only store that you can go into and regularly find Stockhausen’s own CD’s; he bought back all the masters back from D.G., and he’s released them himself, and it’s the only place where you can find them. They have a complete set at Other Music. They have Xenakis at Other Music, but they have it there not because, oh, we have an earnest commitment to new music, but they have it there because people who like sort of the general category of “weirdos” like that kind of music. That’s why they’ve got it there. The other thing, to continue Michael’s analogy about, you know, music stores… We like the people who live in between rooms, the music that we want to be with are the people who are lodged in the wall between pop and classical music, or in the stairway between DJ’s and jazz. There are people… it seems to me that if you want a composer who’s really trying to do something interesting, you’re not trying to fit into a bin that has an easy location. You’re trying to find something that actually hovers around. We just did Music for Airports by Brian Eno. Brian Eno has bins in three different places in Tower Records, because his output is too diverse to be categorized.

FRANK J. OTERI: And you listen to those albums themselves – an album like Another Green World — is it a rock album, is it an ambient record, is it an experimental record?

DAVID LANG: Right. And that’s what’s interesting about him. You actually aren’t able to locate himself in one place.

FRAN RICHARD: I’ll make you a proposition – that you do something for “Between the Rooms,” and you do some kind of showcase.

JULIA WOLFE: Great.

DAVID LANG: Sign us up.

FRAN RICHARD: Okay, you’re on.