The Bang on a Can Marathon happened yesterday before an enthusiastic crowd at the Moore Theatre. More than five hours of experimental, image-making, innovative, poised, and proto-sonic conglomerations took the stage. The festivities were co-curated by multi-instrumentalist and composer Jherek Bischoff. Performances included Eyvind Kang and Jessika Kenney, Morgan Henderson (Blood Brothers, Fleet Foxes), Shabazz Palaces, Bischoff & Scrape Ensemble, and redfishbluefish from UC San Diego performing the Seattle premiere of Steve Reich's hour-long masterwork “Music for 18 Musicians.” I attended the entirety of the event and noted thoughts as it rolled along. I rode my seat like a 787 Dreamliner. So strap it in, oil your hearing cogs, feed your amoeba some cayenne, away we go:
Condensed for you below is five hours of music into a seven-minute video:
Jherek Bischoff says hello.
0:18 Bang on a Can All-Stars
0:36 Eyvind Kang/Jessika Kenney/Vicky Chow
1:03 Morgan Henderson
1:38 Bang on a Can All-Stars
2:05 Performance and Sonic Obstruction of Sounds
2:53 Shabazz Palaces
5:09 Jherek Bischoff & Scrape
6:15 Bang on a Can All-Stars & redfishbluefish
4 pm: Bang on a Can All-Stars do Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. Cello, double bass, piano, percussion, guitar, clarinet/sax, and synths making celestial, angelic swells. Quiet—you can hear the crowd making noise. Someone fumbled with a plastic bag. The mittens of the arrangement had a tidal pull. It had taken me forever to find parking in Belltown before I came in. Frazzled from the parking search on a sunny Sunday afternoon, it took me a while to let the waves of Eno wash over me. Finally, I ebbed away from the concrete stress and thoughts of the crack prostitute with cold sores wearing eight-inch heels who said, “Hey tall white boy, will you tie my tie? It needs tying.” Now for Eno tides. The percussionist scratched at a surface for an ambient dermis layer. Mallets on vibraphone struck ripples on still lake.
Thoughts of killer whales out in the sound half-dreaming. Killer whales don’t ever fully go to sleep. They can only breathe voluntarily, which means they drown if they fall completely asleep. So they sleep by shutting down one half of their brain at a time, allowing them to maintain enough awareness to swim to the surface and breathe.
The Eno ended around 5 p.m.
Jeremy introduces Eyvind Kang on violin and vocalist Jessika Kenney as “A mystical power couple.” They're accompanied by Vicky Chow on piano for “Mirror Stage 3.” It was a noise ballet. Psychotic snowflakes. The shower scene from Psycho, except it’s snowing thick padded snowflakes in the bathroom. Kenney cyclically sung non-words, then wound into the word “joy.” And then back out into toned mouth/lung emittings. The killing wouldn’t have been at the Bates Motel. It would have been at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome. The grandest of the public baths dedicated in the year 306. The largest, most lavish of the imperial baths. Norman Bates would have highly enjoyed those baths.
Kang/Kenney/Chow Ended at 5:23. [One of the crew looked like Lars Ulrich.]
5:27: “Light Is Calling” by Ashley Bathgate playing cello to a backing track of mechanized, amniotic churn. She rode harmonies of thirds and fifths into cascading pristine labia of a nocturne. An ornamental casing. Striding and longing. Beautiful strife. Strong enough to know its beauty.
Jeremy describes Morgan Henderson as being extremely versatile, referencing his days playing bass with the Blood Brothers and the other side of the spectrum playing flute with Fleet Foxes. He does both well, because he’s able to become absorbed into whatever music he’s playing.
Had a nice visit from Hanna Benn of Pollens, in which we discussed headlights and spelunking.
5:45: Henderson begins. Constructing sound via laptop and knob operating. He swirls a heavy ambience. Damp tonnage of thrush sounds. Candle-thrown shadows of flute sent through lengthy delays. A thatch-like rhythm dove out of the Moore’s sound-system with healthy amounts of bass. Logarithms of sped-up rattlesnake rattles. Robot snake, real snake rattle. Toward the end, Morgan waved an effected microphone in front of his amp, catching the sounds and inverting them in his computerized hive mind, while maintaining the robotic rattlesnake aspects. (5:54: end. I could have used another hour of it.)
Bang on a Can All-Stars back out for “Sunray” by David Lang, “Yo Shakespeare” by Michael Gordon, and “Big Beautiful Dark and Scary” by Julia Wolfe.
Reverse calliope. A backwards spinning carousel. I saw a light-blue cone of cotton candy get unmade. The sugar cotton spun off the cone. Ascended to conclusion. The drummer played a full kit.
“Yo Shakespeare” is multiple rhythms at once. Hunt for Red October submarine thriller music. Also fitting for banana slug documentaries. Threes and fours/triangles and squares, rotating over each other. Attracted but repelled. Super tightly punctuated. It worked and didn’t work at the same time.
6:32: “Big Beautiful Dark and Scary” begins. Julia Wolfe’s churning, improbo-jams. Improbo as can fucking be. A deranged latticework of improbo goin’ loco, cause we all yolo eatin' Rolo, playin' oboe with my homie Bozo takin' photos. Extremely well calculated swerving. Inside hum of watercolor. The visual capacities of my hearing mind envisioned mosquitos growing from larvae to maturity at high-speed. Visible circulatory systems, and high-speed larvae at sunset. (6:40: end.)
6:47: Intermission, waiting for Gust Burns. A woman stands up in the aisle and stretches. Mostly her calves. Some slight knee bends. She also crouches down.
6:49: Gust Burns’s “Performance and Sonic Obstruction of Sounds (5a)." Two men, simultaneous liftoff. Piano, drum kit, and backing track. Silence to chaos, back to silence on a dime. Quick cuts between the two opposites. Two spigots of scalding-hot water being turned on at exactly the same time. Noisiest noise vs. awkwardly long periods of silence. Abrupt detonations of loud into detonations of silence. Not sure which was louder. (6:57: end.)
Shabazz Palaces' Ish and Tendai emerge, set their respective sonic tables, and hook tentacles in. They constructed beats from scratch, floating in deep-water stasis. Preeminently laid back. Regal 808 sounds over mile-wide gilded beats. Tendai forged cities in caves with big soprano reverb calls and thumb harp support beams. Ish rapped, stately stating, orating. (7:25: end.)
7:40: Bischoff and Scrape Orchestra play Jim Knapp’s “Listening to Reason.” Strings building and layering. Rhythmic churn. Guitarist Gregg Belisle-Chi enacting sounds of John McLaughlin unfolding prisms in the dew. It strode and marched bows on the strings, then I was taffy inside an industrial strength taffy maker. It got weird, good and weird. They stretched the vellum tight.
Bischoff had composed while at a large cistern, causing his music to have lengthy shades of sound. Expansive plains. Tectonic message pulses. Amniotic morse code in the Earth crust.
Bischoff’s “Ambient Orchestral Works:" Bischoff hangs curtains of heartbroken spaghetti love songs over the basin. Eloquent streams of strings and melody. Someone you love is bloody from a battle and you’re cleaning their wounds. They were fighting for you. At 8:05, percussionists walk down the aisle chiming tiny bells. Rolling out another dimension, trickling tongues of bells.
8:25: It doesn’t feel like we’ve been here four hours. Thank-yous to the crew, the sound engineers. Appreciative, enthusiastic crowd.
Time for Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians.” redfishbluefish ensemble are onstage. Three pianists, violin, clarinet, four vocalists, seven percussionists. There are, in fact, 18 musicians playing. Inspired/informed by Gamelan/Indonesian percussion troupes, massively intricate rhythms. No conductor. Each musician conducts themselves internally. The piece has 11 extended pulses, in total about an hour long:
Lengthy, rhythmic unveilings with the vocalists “shooing” in and out by moving the microphone closer and farther from their mouths. Movements, frigid swells—swells being a recurring theme of the event. The music revolved out from quickly spinning gears of three vibraphone players, with a fourth providing the aviary’s giant canopy lid. The body of the piece was etched out onto impending celestial mosaics—urgently envisioning a peaceful break of day. Two of the vocalists hit mechanistic “doot-doo tatter roots” while the two vocalists opposite them onstage offered up sustained notes. Seven percussionists working mallets precisely—ice gears stamping out ice castles. Castle tower. Ice hive spinning ice looms. Intricate, unified, working tones of industry.
I could hear buses and their air brakes out on Virginia St. “Psshhhhah.” It was a perfect sound effect, perfect timing. Psychedelic music from the 1920s, with the clarinet matching sequenced notes of doo-wah Minnie Mouse vocals.
8:56: A man stands up from his seat in the middle section to stare intently at the stage. As if an extremely rare bird had landed on one of the music stands and he really needed to get a better look at it. Then he sat back down. Such as the red-crowned crane, among the rarest of cranes in the world. Mostly found in East Asia, symbols of luck and longevity. Eight-foot wingspan. Estimated total population in the wild is around 2,750 cranes.
9:16: WORKING COGS OF AN ONYX CLOCK. We’re the mouse inside. Skipping from cog to cog to get to our warm nest of hay over the cold ticking fray.
Three grand pianos, not two. Skilled, accurate musicians with stamina pulling this off meticulously. That's some fortified short muscle exactitude on the vibraphones. Stellar playing. Not a rivet missed on the entire plane. How’s my handwriting now? “Music for 18 Musicians” is the sound of a memory you had to work your way back to remember. Something you’d forgotten, but remember now. Like a giant onyx clock. Or an injured baby crow you took in as a kid that died three days later. So you buried it and gave it a red brick headstone that said "Crow Is Here. But Not Here," scratched on it.