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Monday, June 16, 2008

...And One Last BoaC Post

But of course the Bang on a Can Marathon isn't just about music, it's also about hobnobbing with your favorite new-music celebrities! Ha ha, just kidding. There is no such thing as a new-music celebrity. But I weirdly enjoyed my last foray into gossip columnism (where is the Perez Hilton of the new music scene?) and so I'm going to dump a bunch more names now. I saw Judd Greenstein and Missy Mazzoli again, and she totally busted my chops about last year's awkwardness. "Hey, Dan, it's me! Missy! You might not recognize me, because I am in a different building, wearing slightly different clothes from the last time." Sighhh... Point, set, match. Martin Bresnick said hi! He is always very nice. More Awkward: During one set, I cut rapidly through the listening crowd near the base of the stage, looking for a friend I'd bumped into, then (not finding said friend) stopped without warning and turned around 180°. At which point I literally bumped into Michael Gordon, long one of my favorite composers. Um, sorry. Yeah, I didn't introduce myself. (Digression: Have I come to expect too much from Michael Gordon? He has these pieces like Decasia and Industry and last year's Marathon miracle Gotham that leave me breathless and tearful, but this only happens 50% of the time. Van Gogh and Trance and Weather have their moments, but they are not sublime, and he's spoiled me for sublime. This year's Michael Gordon entry was All the Stops on the F Train, a musical setting of the names of all the stops on the F Train that left me undazzled and unmoved and wondering if it was my fault. Really I wished that instead of a youth chorus the performers had been a one-on-a-part jazz choir, to go with the pleasing Sesame Street vibe of Bill Morrison's excellent-as-always video accompaniment. Also, there needs to be a moratorium on the setting of preciously inappropriate texts. Whatever, I want to hear it again.) Yet More Awkward: during the first of that evening's many trips to the restroom of the World Financial Center, I overheard a conversation between composer David Lang and a disabled patron he'd graciously escorted to the lav as they waited for the handicapped stall to open up. Gradually I realized that I was in the only handicapped stall, and that they were waiting for me to finish. I tried to hurry it up, but some things physically cannot be rushed, and so I basically made David Lang and a man in a wheelchair wait for me to finish using the toilet. When I was finally done he said—again, graciously—"Thank you!" David Lang thanked me for getting done with my poop. The only way this could have been a more awkward way to meet David Lang is if I could have somehow combined all the awkwardnesses of previous Bang on a Can encounters, for instance by physically ramming into David Lang and then saying aloud, "Say, that man looks just like David Lang." (Digression: I'm really warming up to David Lang, basically thanks to vigorous lobbying on the part of Nico Muhly. I think Nico did the same thing to Ben Frost, who keeps mentioning David Lang in interviews. Is Nico on the Lang payroll, under the table, somehow? Whatever, it worked, I'm a fan. Everybody needs to go get a recording of Are You Experienced? It is hilarious and brilliant.) And finally, I got to meet Owen Pallett, Arcade Fire violinist and Final Fantasy (not the game) mastermind, whose most recent album He Poos Clouds is a must-hear. Nico: "Danny meet Owen! He sings and plays violin." Danny: "Of course! I love your records." Owen Pallett: "Did you just say you love my haircut?" No! But I did love it! He was completely hot. This much I already knew—I'd seen him in pictures and in YouTube videos such as this one and was also aware that he was a terrific songwriter and arranger, but what I was pleased to discover hearing him perform live was that he is also a better singer and violinist than he would have to be to pull off his project. Really, he could be a good bit sketchier on the fiddle (he gets a nice sound!), and his vocals could reside totally in that heady, muffled place (he keeps a bright high end in reserve!), and he would totally get away with it. He admitted he was nervous, backstage and then between songs, and honestly he was right to be. He's a great songwriter and arranger: a popular songwriter draws big, bold signs in satisfying configurations; an arranger lends those glyphs depth and color. But a successful piece of concert music requires a third, distinct skill, which is... I'm not sure what it is. Maybe it's the subordination of those signs to the larger structure, a structure designed to stimulate more than satisfy. Or maybe what I just said is totally meaningless. Anyway, expectations were high, he was not playing to his well-known strengths, and sure enough, the prevailing opinion among my little coven of composer friends was that the piece was not a success. I disagree. Maybe that's because my expectations were lower (for the reasons outlined above) than those of most of the people I was talking to, or maybe my taste is just not as refined, but I thought the piece had a pleasing shape (described in a bizarre prefatory speech that was not so much a program note as a Flatland-inspired science fiction story allegorizing(?) the form of the piece we were about to hear) and I thought the particulars were nicely realized. I loved the electronic spinning out of the solo violin part into a quasi-impressionist string texture, and I loved the long, ghostly diminuendo with which the piece disappeared into a halo of reverb. And I suspect the acoustic (which tended to turn counterpoint into mush and disappear everything into a pale halo of reverb) did not do the piece any favors. That's the oldest excuse in any composer's book—"It's such a bad hall!"—but the Winter Garden is so obviously a "bad" hall that I'm really going to put that one out there. Anyways, that's all. See you at the Bang on a Can Marathon, 2009!!

4 comments:

minim said...

Ha! You actually made me guffaw with your David Lang moment. And yes, you're quite right - everyone *does* need their own copy of Are You Experienced.

Marcus said...

Butt Magazine's interview with Owen Pallett:

http://www.buttmagazine.com/?p=324

Nico said...

Did you misspell "POOS"

Dan Johnson said...

Marcus thank you! That is a great interview. And all gays reading this, please discover the magic of Butt Magazine as soon as possible, as it is far cleverer and more thoughtful than you would guess from the name, but just as much unpretentious fun. Here is another great Owen Pallett interview, a conversation between him and that Grizzly Bear fellow.

Nico, you are right, thank you too! I will correct this immediately.