Bang on a Can All-Stars: Field Recordings

Background, foreground, acoustical, mechanical, pre-recorded, and live. Noise and music coexist in a strange place.
Bang on a Can All-Stars
Field Recordings

The faucet is running. The stopper is in so the water is beginning to pool and rise. The television is on. A late-night host is coming back from commercial. It is the middle of the day.

This high-rise apartment occupies about 8,000 cubic feet of sky-space one-third of a mile above Manhattan’s streets. The city has a high concentration of two important resources: people and money. Yet somehow all is scarce, and rareness is in everything, not excluding thought.

The late night host on the television has abandoned the telescript for the evening. He makes another remark about backstage things to an off-camera crew member. The two discuss time: what’s left, how long before the last sequence, and the audience are forced to be eavesdroppers and voyeurs again.

“Well thank you for your patience, folks. We are sorting out a few things, and from what I hear,” [pause] “there has been a minor adjustment in tonight’s musical presentation,” the host says. Behind him, a man sitting at a drum set makes adjustments. A new camera angle shows a dozen or so musicians arranged in groups of three or four spread about the studio and integrated into the audience. The host walks over to another man and points a microphone at him.

“Please feel free to relax, stretch your legs, use the restroom,” the man says to the studio audience. “What we will be performing is background music,” [pause] “several different kinds of background music,” he motions over to the grand piano. “Here is Vicky at the piano, about to perform — ” someone off-camera shouts “is.” He continues, “What’s that…? Sorry — ” now in a whisper, “is performing a piece from 1952.” The man and the host continue strolling. “It’s a silent piece.”

A large musical clatter from the television now fills the living room and mixes with the sound of a sink filling with water. No one is watching either. An iPhone 12 lay idle, passively connected to a sleek yet partially hidden audio system. There is a laptop, closed, on the desk beside. A few new books sit unread on a shelf by the wall. The camera pans over to a group of three men with mallets and sticks clanking away on a section of the audience risers. Their eyes are intently following a score perched on a stand.

The unsettling, odd tones of a cello and marimba duo creep into the audible background of the percussion trio. The camera works to find the duo in the first wing of the backstage area. The marimbist revolves seven chords in extended harmony while the electric cellist’s digital octaves effect confuses its acoustic pitch with a second electronic pitch, deep and wobbly. The camera pans away to find yet another group of musicians. They are working deftly to execute challenging passages of solo lines in quick alternation. The bass clarinet trills at the low-end of its register, the guitarist with really unbelievable hair zips from middle to high register over many disjointed pitches.

The polyphony of pitch becomes a cacophony of rhythms and, subtly, six or seven musics become just one musical-background-noise-occurrence. Several minutes pass as the cameras try to capture all that is happening. The carefully considered melodies and percussive tones were mixed and blended somewhat randomly and then broadcast over a large distance to be reproduced from a 1″ speaker-bar facing a wall on an UltraFlat in this NYC home.

The renter comes out of her bedroom, grabs the remote, flips off the TV and begins to wash her hair in the sink.

RATING 8 / 10