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  • Saturday, July 8, 2006
    Twelve Hours at the 2006 Bang on a Can Marathon

    By Glenn Kotche

    Just got back home to Chicago from an incredible weekend in NYC. I was lucky enough to be invited with my dear friend and collaborator, David Cossin, of the Bang On A Can All-Stars, to perform a short duo set at the 2006 Bang On A Can Marathon. David and I have been able to perform together a few times recently: first at an impromptu show at the Stone in New York and then at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati as a part of the Music Now Festival.

    My weekend started Friday with a painfully early flight from Chicago so I could be a guest on two radio shows at Columbia University’s WKCR and New York University’s WNYU. I needed to shave seven minutes off of my live version of the Monkey Chant for the Columbia show, Live from the Miller Theater, in order to fit the schedule, which I was able to do without too much angst. Both hosts, Matt Winters and Daniel Blumin, respectively, were really nice and had unusually intelligent questions. Thanks to help from my label and management friends, I was able to arrange equipment and battle the sudden torrential downpour, which resulted in heinous traffic and closed roads and subways, to pull off performing, being interviewed, and then traveling from Columbia to NYU in only 90 minutes.

    After a late sound check on Saturday night, I woke up early Sunday so I could catch the beginning of the Marathon at 11am. First up was the kids’ show featuring Mark Stewart (of the All-Stars, Paul Simon, etc.) and So Percussion. This show was a lot of fun. Mark is incredibly talented at any instrument that he gets his hands on and a great guy to boot. He was able to involve the kids in a really amazing way. I saw him play an instrument that I’ve been on the lookout for. When I was in Brazil with Wilco, Gilberto Gil gave me a DVD of himself performing at the United Nations. On the DVD, Gil’s percussionist was playing some type of inverted steel drum that I hadn’t seen before and was really interested in. Well, of course, Mark not only had three of these Hang Drums, but he is very good on the instrument!

    I was happy to finally see So Percussion after having been a fan for a while now. They made me nervous though, since they played both Clapping Music and Music For Pieces of Wood—the two Steve Reich pieces of which David and I were playing adaptations later that same day. I’m used to playing my solo shows in front of more of a rock audience, for lack of a better description. When I perform my solo arrangement of Music For Pieces of Wood or my piece Clapping Music Variations, most people are hearing these pieces for the first time. At the Marathon, however, there were many people in attendance who not only know these pieces, but also have performed them before, so there was no room for a sub-par performance (hence the nerves!). So Percussion played both of those pieces great, along with another piece that I didn’t recognize but really enjoyed that featured two drummers on a shared set up—very cool stuff.

    After the kids’ show I hung around as much as possible to soak up everything that I could. I saw some incredible performances including Anthony Braxton’s piece for 100 tubas, Evan Ziporyn and Gamelan Galek Tika, Lisa Moore, and Gutbucket. Seeing the Gamelan group that close was a thrill, and Gutbucket really blew me away. I didn’t know what to expect with either of those and was more than pleasantly surprised. Next, I caught the So Percussion collaboration with Matmos—yet another great performance. I was very happy to hear that the two groups will be making more music together in the future—a really great pairing.

    After this I saw two fantastic pieces performed by the Bang on a Can All-Stars (David had a very busy day, to say the least). First up was a piece by Paul Lansky that was performed superbly and sounded great in the spacious Winter Garden Atrium. The second piece was by Annie Gosfield and featured samples from analogue synths. I’m a big fan of Annie’s music. She utilizes really interesting percussion sounds and textures in a unique approach.

    Since I had to assemble some gear and warm up a bit I didn’t see everything and was disappointed that I couldn’t catch the entire sets by Yat Kha from Tuva, Eileen Mack, Tactus, Michael Harrison or Dominic Frasca. I did see William Parker and Jerome Cooper play for the first time though, as well as a wonderful performance of three refreshing pieces by Sentieri Selvaggi under the direction of Carlo Boccadoro. Then David and I were next.

    After a hurried assembly of our set ups and a very kind introduction by Bang On A Can’s Kenny Savelson, I (somewhat reluctantly) took the mic. I’m perfectly comfortable with staying behind the drums but get a bit on edge when it comes to using a microphone for talking. After I introduced the pieces we started with the first piece on my record Mobile, Clapping Music Variations. Since this composition is written for twelve percussionists, David and I played an arrangement where we covered several parts and played along to a track of the remaining parts. There were some initial technical difficulties with the accompaniment track levels that kept us on our toes and made for a slightly rough start, but those got sorted out after about 45 seconds and the rest of the piece went really well. Several people told me that the ending (which features layers of recorded almglocken and us playing on tuned gongs) really worked well, with strange overtones bouncing around in the Winter Garden.

    David’s arrangement of Music for Pieces of Wood is to be performed by two percussionists instead of the original five, and on drums instead of pieces of wood. We hope that Mr. Reich approves of this adaptation; judging from the tribal sounding results of it and his study of African music, I think he would. This turned out to be a real crowd pleaser. It’s a very aggressive arrangement that people seemed really into, judging from the bobbing heads. This also worked well with the wide-open performance space, which was completely consumed by the thundering drums.

    After our performance, I was done but David still had a lot of challenging music to play. The evening portion of the concert was one highlight after another. This included Michael Gordon’s Weather Ensemble, the wonderful Todd Reynolds on violin, Don Byron with the All-Stars, and Maya Beiser with a great piece by David Lang. The All-Stars also did a world premiere of Michael Nyman’s Manhatta. This is a very tough piece that sounded great and was actually pretty accessible, in my opinion. The evening closed with a fantastic performance by Alarm Will Sound.  They did a really cool arrangement of John Adams’s Coast as well as two arrangements of Aphex Twin songs that really translated well to this extremely versatile ensemble. All of their arrangements are done “in house”—a wise decision judging from the talent pool at hand.

    Overall it was an extremely rewarding weekend for me. It was great to meet so many wonderful people and so many artists that I’ve been listening to for some time but have never met. There was a relaxed and down to earth atmosphere throughout. It was also so nice to meet many people who weren’t familiar with most of the music being played; they were just there out of curiosity, which is what this event and the organization is really all about—giving all sorts of people exposure to adventurous and exciting music that they normally wouldn’t have access to. Although the acoustics of the Winter Garden aren’t ideal for some of the music that was presented, I think that the informal nature and accessibility of the space was perfect for an event like this. It was just a lot of fun.

    I’m looking very forward to collaborating some more with David at his SoundRes festival in Italy this month. It’s always a joy to play and hang with him.  This weekend made me really excited to catch more Bang On A Can events in the future.

    Glenn Kotche, who also is the drummer in Wilco, recently made his solo Nonesuch debut with Mobile.

    Listen to some of the performances Glenn discusses here on WNYC's New Sounds, recorded live at the Bang on a Can Marathon.

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Twelve Hours at the 2006 Bang on a Can Marathon

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on July 8, 2006 - 3:00am
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Saturday, July 8, 2006 - 04:00
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By Glenn Kotche
Glenn Kotche offers a first-person account of his 12 hours at the 2006 Bang on a Can Marathon in New York City.

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By Glenn Kotche

Just got back home to Chicago from an incredible weekend in NYC. I was lucky enough to be invited with my dear friend and collaborator, David Cossin, of the Bang On A Can All-Stars, to perform a short duo set at the 2006 Bang On A Can Marathon. David and I have been able to perform together a few times recently: first at an impromptu show at the Stone in New York and then at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati as a part of the Music Now Festival.

My weekend started Friday with a painfully early flight from Chicago so I could be a guest on two radio shows at Columbia University’s WKCR and New York University’s WNYU. I needed to shave seven minutes off of my live version of the Monkey Chant for the Columbia show, Live from the Miller Theater, in order to fit the schedule, which I was able to do without too much angst. Both hosts, Matt Winters and Daniel Blumin, respectively, were really nice and had unusually intelligent questions. Thanks to help from my label and management friends, I was able to arrange equipment and battle the sudden torrential downpour, which resulted in heinous traffic and closed roads and subways, to pull off performing, being interviewed, and then traveling from Columbia to NYU in only 90 minutes.

After a late sound check on Saturday night, I woke up early Sunday so I could catch the beginning of the Marathon at 11am. First up was the kids’ show featuring Mark Stewart (of the All-Stars, Paul Simon, etc.) and So Percussion. This show was a lot of fun. Mark is incredibly talented at any instrument that he gets his hands on and a great guy to boot. He was able to involve the kids in a really amazing way. I saw him play an instrument that I’ve been on the lookout for. When I was in Brazil with Wilco, Gilberto Gil gave me a DVD of himself performing at the United Nations. On the DVD, Gil’s percussionist was playing some type of inverted steel drum that I hadn’t seen before and was really interested in. Well, of course, Mark not only had three of these Hang Drums, but he is very good on the instrument!

I was happy to finally see So Percussion after having been a fan for a while now. They made me nervous though, since they played both Clapping Music and Music For Pieces of Wood—the two Steve Reich pieces of which David and I were playing adaptations later that same day. I’m used to playing my solo shows in front of more of a rock audience, for lack of a better description. When I perform my solo arrangement of Music For Pieces of Wood or my piece Clapping Music Variations, most people are hearing these pieces for the first time. At the Marathon, however, there were many people in attendance who not only know these pieces, but also have performed them before, so there was no room for a sub-par performance (hence the nerves!). So Percussion played both of those pieces great, along with another piece that I didn’t recognize but really enjoyed that featured two drummers on a shared set up—very cool stuff.

After the kids’ show I hung around as much as possible to soak up everything that I could. I saw some incredible performances including Anthony Braxton’s piece for 100 tubas, Evan Ziporyn and Gamelan Galek Tika, Lisa Moore, and Gutbucket. Seeing the Gamelan group that close was a thrill, and Gutbucket really blew me away. I didn’t know what to expect with either of those and was more than pleasantly surprised. Next, I caught the So Percussion collaboration with Matmos—yet another great performance. I was very happy to hear that the two groups will be making more music together in the future—a really great pairing.

After this I saw two fantastic pieces performed by the Bang on a Can All-Stars (David had a very busy day, to say the least). First up was a piece by Paul Lansky that was performed superbly and sounded great in the spacious Winter Garden Atrium. The second piece was by Annie Gosfield and featured samples from analogue synths. I’m a big fan of Annie’s music. She utilizes really interesting percussion sounds and textures in a unique approach.

Since I had to assemble some gear and warm up a bit I didn’t see everything and was disappointed that I couldn’t catch the entire sets by Yat Kha from Tuva, Eileen Mack, Tactus, Michael Harrison or Dominic Frasca. I did see William Parker and Jerome Cooper play for the first time though, as well as a wonderful performance of three refreshing pieces by Sentieri Selvaggi under the direction of Carlo Boccadoro. Then David and I were next.

After a hurried assembly of our set ups and a very kind introduction by Bang On A Can’s Kenny Savelson, I (somewhat reluctantly) took the mic. I’m perfectly comfortable with staying behind the drums but get a bit on edge when it comes to using a microphone for talking. After I introduced the pieces we started with the first piece on my record Mobile, Clapping Music Variations. Since this composition is written for twelve percussionists, David and I played an arrangement where we covered several parts and played along to a track of the remaining parts. There were some initial technical difficulties with the accompaniment track levels that kept us on our toes and made for a slightly rough start, but those got sorted out after about 45 seconds and the rest of the piece went really well. Several people told me that the ending (which features layers of recorded almglocken and us playing on tuned gongs) really worked well, with strange overtones bouncing around in the Winter Garden.

David’s arrangement of Music for Pieces of Wood is to be performed by two percussionists instead of the original five, and on drums instead of pieces of wood. We hope that Mr. Reich approves of this adaptation; judging from the tribal sounding results of it and his study of African music, I think he would. This turned out to be a real crowd pleaser. It’s a very aggressive arrangement that people seemed really into, judging from the bobbing heads. This also worked well with the wide-open performance space, which was completely consumed by the thundering drums.

After our performance, I was done but David still had a lot of challenging music to play. The evening portion of the concert was one highlight after another. This included Michael Gordon’s Weather Ensemble, the wonderful Todd Reynolds on violin, Don Byron with the All-Stars, and Maya Beiser with a great piece by David Lang. The All-Stars also did a world premiere of Michael Nyman’s Manhatta. This is a very tough piece that sounded great and was actually pretty accessible, in my opinion. The evening closed with a fantastic performance by Alarm Will Sound.  They did a really cool arrangement of John Adams’s Coast as well as two arrangements of Aphex Twin songs that really translated well to this extremely versatile ensemble. All of their arrangements are done “in house”—a wise decision judging from the talent pool at hand.

Overall it was an extremely rewarding weekend for me. It was great to meet so many wonderful people and so many artists that I’ve been listening to for some time but have never met. There was a relaxed and down to earth atmosphere throughout. It was also so nice to meet many people who weren’t familiar with most of the music being played; they were just there out of curiosity, which is what this event and the organization is really all about—giving all sorts of people exposure to adventurous and exciting music that they normally wouldn’t have access to. Although the acoustics of the Winter Garden aren’t ideal for some of the music that was presented, I think that the informal nature and accessibility of the space was perfect for an event like this. It was just a lot of fun.

I’m looking very forward to collaborating some more with David at his SoundRes festival in Italy this month. It’s always a joy to play and hang with him.  This weekend made me really excited to catch more Bang On A Can events in the future.

Glenn Kotche, who also is the drummer in Wilco, recently made his solo Nonesuch debut with Mobile.

Listen to some of the performances Glenn discusses here on WNYC's New Sounds, recorded live at the Bang on a Can Marathon.

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