Brian Eno, Philip Glass and Steve Reich are among the musicians whose work is showcased in Bang on a Can’s concert at Brighton Dome this month. Michael Gordon, who co-founded the New York ensemble over thirty years ago explains why minimalist music is reaching a wider audience than ever before.
In 1987 we put on a concert that was twelve hours long. Julia Wolfe, David Lang and I put it on together, and it started at two in the afternoon and ended at two in the morning. We called it the Bang on a Can Marathon, not really thinking about it being more than a one-off event. That twelve hour format seemed to attract a lot of people, including John Cage, and that’s how we started. It was pretty far off the radar of music, not stuff that was easy to find at the time.
We came to Brighton sometime in the mid 90s on our first UK tour. We asked some of the standout performers from the marathons if they would travel with us and go give concerts. We’re happy to be coming back. There are a couple of musicians still in the group who played at that concert. The other members have come and gone, but the six instruments have remained the same. The sound lives in a kind of suspended world between chamber music and a full-out band.
It’s a programme of highlights and special treats. In the 90s we arranged Brian Eno’s classic ambient music tape piece, Music for Airports, for live instruments, and we’re going to be doing the first movement of that. Being able to hear Eno live is always great. There’s also a piece by the British composer Steve Martland that’s really rousing and sounds a lot like a band. And there’s some Philip Glass which is very intimate and beautiful and more like chamber music. It’s rounded off with work by Steve Reich and Meredith Monk, both New York composers who are icons of minimal music.
Since the fall, the group has been everywhere from Argentina to Russia. The thing that’s interesting is that an audience has really developed over the last couple of decades for music that’s in between the cracks. Experimental rock groups and film scores have started being a lot more creative with sound and I think the idea of what music is has slowly evolved. People are a lot more open. And the rate at which you can jump around on the internet and hear things is just amazing.
We’ve definitely seen the change. When we started with that twelve hour concert, we were kind of like, what can we do to attract people’s attention? And now, and it’s... well, wow! There are a lot of groups and a lot of young composers, and there’s more optimism about the future of music. Minimal music, amplified experimental music, has in a certain sense found its place on the roster. People are listening.
Brighton Dome, Jan 15th, 7.30pm
As told to Ben Bailey
Photo by Peter Serling