‘E Knows, that Eno
“They don’t know what it is, and they say afterwards ‘What is this? Why don’t we hear this more? Who are you? Where did you come from? Is there more music like this?’” – Bang On A Can guitarist Mark Stewart, quoted in the programme.
That is distantly similar to how I felt on going to see the Bang On A Can Allstars perform at Symphony Hall on Sunday the 4th. I simply don’t get the chance to hear too many modern compositions that don’t fall within the popular music bracket. If events like this happen regularly then I don’t know about them.
Five pieces made up the first half. The guitarist took to the stage alone initially, for Steve Reich’s “Electric Counterpoint.” He played and was accompanied by a recording of himself, fugueing around it in an interesting and fun way (and, now I think of it, providing an bit of a parallel to Bela Emerson’s set the previous night). The rest of the ensemble then joined him for David Lang’s “Sunray,” a piece with three distinct sections (would I call them movements? I’m not sure) that moved from very twinkly to slightly bombastic over the course of them. Two works by David Byron followed (in a different order to that suggested by the programme) – “Dark Room” (originally written to accompany a 1950s comedy programme) and “Show Him Some Lub.” The latter was possibly my favourite bit of the evening. The programme notes that Byron feels that “Things that rock usually are confessional.” Rather than some vague angst, for this he asked the players various questions about their ethnicity and background, and had them repeat the answers (but not the questions) as quasi-lyrics for the piece. And yes, it did rock. The first half finished with (Sonic Youth cohort) Thurston Moore’s “Stroking Piece #1,” by far the closest thing to the sort of act I might normally go to see – it didn’t sound that dissimilar to your typical post-rock sort of style, but done very well and with a very deft touch. The very ending of it, the way the last glowing embers were gently able to fade away after the maelstrom was the sort of thing that a lot of those sort of bands would probably love to have written themselves. (A digression: Apparently this type of thing is typical of Sonic Youth, which is interesting to me – I’ve never been that keen on anything I’ve ever heard by them, but now would like to have more of a proper look/listen. Any suggestions for where to start will be welcome).
An interval later, we had the bit used as a selling point for the evening – Brian Eno’s “Music For Airports.” They were at pains to point out that this wasn’t composed with the intention of it ever being performed in concert, and that did sort of show. Beautiful, pretty, floaty, and… prone to allowing ones attention drift while sitting there, for me at least. In all truthfulness, though, I am not the best person to be relied upon to pay close attention to anything for too long, so take that with as much of a pinch of salt as you feel is needed. I’d say I was actively unimpressed with the visuals (which didn’t follow the pattern explained in the programme anyway – not sure whether that was a result of something going wrong or not), but the music made for a very nice background to mind-wandering.
Pete Ashton’s thoughts on this are here.
~ Russ L, who was later to be suspected of refusing to share biscuits that he didn’t actually have.