The performance put on at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts by the group Bang on a Can manifested the pure meaning of the word synergy. This word came into use particularly during the period in the 60’s and 70’s when the design world of Bucky Fuller was in Biblical vogue. A word stemming from biology, "synergy", in the context in which I am applying it, addresses metaphorically how an idea can develop through a collection of elements which when put together create a larger idea or unit that indicates a different meaning beyond the mere sum of its parts.
Bang on A Can plays music that seems to be a logical "extension" of the music that is historically known as minimal--- that music identified with LaMonte Young, Terry Riley, Phil Glass and Steve Reich. "Extension" does not mean "derivation". If the music were a derivation of minimalism, it would not have the incredibly captivating embracing effect that it has. The three Artistic Directors who composed many of the works on the program and the musicians know the material that they are working with and the history associated with it. That is the reason that they strive to make the leap to a new zone, as they carry all the strings of classical, jazz, rock and world music with them and tie them in never before heard knots.
This ensemble of six musicians created a breadth of sound that often equaled that of an orchestra. This is the closest I have ever heard to classical music that is tribal in its repetitive rhythmic content, instrumental choice and pure visceral drive. To watch the individuals in the group is inspirational: especially the cellist, who happened to be stage center, whose body language transcended the typical body language of a cellist as she exhibited the oneness she possessed with her instrument. She ground her bow into the strings of the instrument; she did it over and over again. This process contributed to the pieces in one or all of the following three ways: the cello became the key to the body of each piece, functioned as the core of a piece or was the accenting mechanism out of a piece. The string bass inherently became the soul of the group by means of the depth of its tone. The percussion was so significant that the sounds emanating from the drumset, marimba, vibraphone, bells, singing bowl, et cetera would have been missing, if they had not been there. The clarinet often was the sprightly lead to the symphony of surrounding sound. The guitar behaved as a deepening component to the string bass and cello. The electronics & keyboard playing seemed to round off any rough edges to the acoustic instruments. Sometimes vocalization aided in humanizing and thrusting emotion into the already ardent pursuit of resolutions to the compositions. Are you hearing the music yet?
An non-off-putting intellectualism associates itself with how the music is structured. Each piece, no matter whether group or solo, exemplifies one continual development of a musical idea that has many strains, exemplified by a web of intersections that hosts bursts of sound, interstices of silences, elongations of tones, tides of resonance, delicacies of color, polyphonic storms, torrents of exaggeration: music in which I want to live.
The inventiveness of this group surpasses any criticism that it imitates the music that has allowed it to grow. The clarity with which Bang On A Can has taken a step further from its predecessors is crystalline.
(The performers are Gregg August, bass; Jonh Benthal, electric guitar; David Cossin, persussion; Lisa Moore, piano & keyboards; Wendy Sutter, cello; and Even Ziporyn, clarinet & bass clarinet. The group is in residence at MASSMoCA for the Bang on a Can Summer Institute of Music.)