Bang on a Can is not a band, it’s a movement – one dedicated to the creation, proliferation and preservation of mindsets bent on unfettered musical imagination.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the ensemble brings its highly eclectic and experimental yet viscerally exciting strains of music on Saturday, October 14, to the Ford Theatres with the world premiere of Road Trip. Directed by Michael Counts and enhanced by stunning scenic design by projection artist CandyStations, Road Trip is a Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)-sponsored performance art explosion for the senses.
David Lang, co-founder of Bang on a Can, along with Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon in 1987, describes its inspiration as follows. “We’ve been taking this music all over the world for 30 years together, figuring out who we are and what exactly it is that we do. The idea of a road trip became a metaphor for us, our mission and the answer to the question, ‘What to do for our 30th anniversary?’ We’re composers…we make new music! That started this ‘journey language’ – a kaleidoscopic, upbeat presentation of the happiest, most optimistic, apocalyptic music you’ve ever heard in your life. It reflects all the places we’ve been and all the places we want to go…physically, emotionally, spiritually and personally. It’s something we’ve never done before: super ‘up,’ loud, exciting and visual.”
Road Trip was previewed at Bang on a Can’s 16th annual Summer Music Festival at Mass MoCa, but the significance of its presentation in Los Angeles is more stunningly apropos. “The feel is that we have this great all-star band plus a sound guy, all piled into a car driving cross country from California to New York. Now, what will we see out the window? What’s going to be on the radio? What are we doing to do to pass the time? The incredible direction by Michael Counts and psychedelic light and video projection by CandyStations helps to bring it all into focus.” Anticipating the splendor of the Ford Theatres' al fresco beauty and majesty, David adds, “Because this piece is so much about the countryside and being outdoors, we’ll take full advantage of the 360-degree environment there.”
If Bang on a Can were to have a greatest hits, it would be their collaborations with genius pioneers of experimental music such as Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, John Cage and Steve Reich with the LA Phil. Their most popular project is a live version of Brian Eno’s Music For Airports - with Eno’s blessing. The group also works prodigiously with artists from other cultures, most recently Gong Linna (龚琳娜) – the “Madonna of China.”
Road Trip arrives at a dicey time in America’s history – one in which a celebration of the country might initially seem inappropriate, but David begs to differ. “There’s a time to resist and a time to remind yourself what you’re resisting for,” he explains. “Sometimes you need to step back and say, ‘What is it that unites us? What do we really represent?’ Because we’ve spent most of our lives being the American artist abroad, we want to remind everyone that America is an idea – an idea of a way that people can work together so that there is optimism. When we lose our optimism in our country then the other side wins.”
The movement that is Bang on a Can extends from performance to community outreach, music education and mentoring – a far cry from the egocentricities of musicians up on a stage. And just what is the meaning behind that name Bang on a Can anyway? “When we were starting, we thought, ‘How do we let people know – just from the name of what it is we’re doing – that they won’t have any idea of what they’re about to hear yet they‘re going to have a good time?’ Anything that was serious, that might give you an idea of what it was, or whether you would like it or not like it - went right out the window. We needed a name that reminded people of the primal place where music comes from, a name that sounds like we don’t take ourselves too seriously so people would come to the concert and maybe actually enjoy it. A name that doesn’t remind you of any other music you already know.”
Expect the unexpected and to love it when you trip the night fantastic on Bang on a Can’s Road Trip, Saturday, October 14, at the Ford Theatres. Tickets and info here.
- By A. Scott Galloway