Ever since Bang on a Can became a major label endeavor, the adverturousness of the informal music festival’s recordings take on the appearance of losing its initial pioneering spirit.
Critics of Bang on the Can said the primarily downtown New York affair lost its edge about seven years ago when it moved out of the Kitchen and into Lincoln Center.
On the contrary, Bang on a Can has tapped into the slowly built proverbial bridges between popular culture and high art.
Two years ago, Bang on a Can arranged Brian Eno’s Music for Airports for live instruments. In short, it reverse engineered the components of Eno’s seminal recorded opus and toured the piece in a number of international air terminals.
For a follow-up, members of the festival’s house band, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, have done something pretty obvious — they recorded three works by Steve Reich.
Compared to the names of composers championed by Bang on a Can, Reich is about as classically mainstream as, say, Bob Dylan. Not everyone may like his work, but most people can appreciate Reich’s influence.
Reich, however, is one of the few figures in (so-called) art music recognizable in pop circles — well, at least in the underground. Last year, Nonesuch, who also released BOAC’s collection of Reich’s work, rounded up a bunch of DJs to remix Reich’s work.
Bang on a Can present more straight-forward interpretations of Reich’s work, but it’s still easy to understand the composer’s appeal to the electronic music frontier.
Reich’s music sounds synthetic on the surface, but as it unfolds — as it does in the kinetic Eight Lines — a broader sense of beauty emerges. Bang on a Can infuses this seemingly cold music with a real human warmth, and the results are satisfyingly amazing.
P.S. I always thought of myself more of a Phillip Glass fan than a Steve Reich fan, but after listening to Different Trains with more mature ears — and now the pieces on this latest collection — I’d say the scales are definitely shifting.