The 2015 PCF COMPOSERS

Three world premieres commissioned by the people! On February 26, the Bang on a Can All-Stars will perform brand new works by Wilco’s Glenn Kotche, Jace Clayton (aka DJ/rupture) and Ben Frost, all part of our ongoing Field Recordings project. 

Also on the program is Donnacha Dennehy's Streetwalker, Michael Gordon's For MadelineAnnie Gosfield's Overvoltage Rumble, and Erdem Helvacioglu's Tales for Oppression and Resistance (parts 4 and 10).

John Schaefer of WNYC-FM will host the evening for future radio broadcasts on his program, “New Sounds Live” and the concert will be streamed live on Q2 Music and will be available for on-demand listening at Q2Music.org.

Part of Merkin Concert Hall's Ecstatic Music Festival!

Program notes:

Jace Clayton   New Work (world premiere)
This is a conceptual piece about forgetting -- based around the idea that the last song you remember at the end of a long life is the first one you learned as a child. So i asked each All-Star to tell me the 1st song they learned, and that selection becomes the raw musical material I'm working with. The premise of the commission was to integrate an audio sample; rather than sample something literally I'm 'sampling' their memories. I will join them onstage for the performance of the piece, doing real-time sample of their audio as well.

Ben Frost   Negative Ghostrider II (world premiere)
The Northrop X-47B is an unmanned semi-autonomous drone aircraft. Amid concurrent active conflicts, it recently underwent a series of critical flight tests from the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. The drone operated amid manned F-18 warplanes using the carrier at the same time, a dramatic step toward integrating such robotcraft into naval aviation. According to the Naval Air Systems Command, the Unmanned Combat Air Systems (UCAS) program is intended to develop a carrier-suitable UAV “in support of persistent, penetrating surveillance, and penetrating strike capability.” Whilst currently “there is no plan to weaponize the aircraft” the design has a payload capability of 4,500 lb. In late 2014, working with visual artist Richard Mosse, Ben Frost traveled to the carrier at an undisclosed location in the Atlantic Ocean to document these tests. This piece is both an acoustic translation of field recordings made on location, and a personal reflection upon the experience.  By January 2012 the disclosed cost to the American taxpayer of the X-47b program was an estimated $813 million.

Glenn Kotche   Time Spirals (world premiere)
Time Spirals incorporates recordings that I’ve made over the years from my travels, including recordings from several continents and spanning all 12 months.  The piece is rooted in drumkit grooves, more specifically demos from my library of audio notes – one for each month in which it was first documented.  The All-Stars cycle through these in a chromatically descending spiral. The field recordings are also from my library of recordings – a total of 48 – 4 from each month of the year.  These range from parades, festivals and protests to heaters, singing and dying electronic toys.  These are structured in collapsing cycles of time from 15 seconds down to 2.5 seconds each.  The members of the ensemble take turns improvising and interpreting the recordings throughout the piece.  Time Spirals mirrors my experiences through the years and evokes the blurring of time and place that happens as we accumulate memories and age.

Donnacha Dennehy  Streetwalker 
Streetwalker was commissioned in 2003 by WNYC Radio New York for the Bang on a Can All-Stars, and special thanks are due to John Schaefer, host of WNYC’s mold-breaking New Sounds program, for making it happen.  At the time I was pretty exercised by the wars going on (some still going on today!) and the way they took place despite a lack of popular support, or much evidence to justify them!  Not a very good protester myself, this piece was written in sympathy with those who took to the streets to shout about it.  Streetwalker was one of the first pieces of mine to use what I came to call an elastic rhythmic process, where durations stretch and contract against each other within volatile loops.  This rhythmic technique informed a lot of music to follow, including a radically different, rather gentle piece for violin and orchestra called Elastic Harmonic.

Annie Gosfield  Overvoltage Rumble (PCF commission - 2006)
“Overvoltage Rumble” was written for the Bang on a Can All-Stars. Their unique instrumentation inspired me to explore a shifting, dynamic balance between the group’s acoustic and electric sounds. Just before writing the piece, I unearthed some old recordings that I had made of a vintage Serge analog synthesizer and an Arp 2600, which provided the jolt that could further electrify the piece. I sampled the recordings, which were a pack rat's stash of swooping, buzzing, and rattling analog synthesizer sounds, and arranged them across the keyboard of my sampler. This gave me immediate access to a huge variety of sounds, in a set-up that would have been impossible on the original instruments. Vicky Chow performs the synthesizer part live on the sampler: instead of fiddling with pesky patch cords (like we did in the old days) she can use her energy and highly developed piano skills to play with the ensemble, accessing many different sounds in quick succession. In the purely acoustic sections of the piece, the musicians echo the rich, complex analog layers and drifting oscillators of these bygone analog beasts, focusing on one note while modulating timbre and small fluctuations of pitch. The bass and bass clarinet both duel (or rumble) with the synthesizer in open solos that contrast acoustic sounds with the synthesizer's wild electronic flotsam and jetsam. The drums hold down a steady five against seven beat, using a clangorous collection of metal and a low-tuned snare drum. Ideally, the guitarist uses a telecaster with no effects for maximum twang, and tunes the lowest string a half step flat, occasionally bending behind the nut, borrowing a technique from country music. The cello conspires with the bass to propel the 5’s and 7’s into a driving groove. The technical savvy of the All-Stars allowed me to combine electronic sounds with acoustic sounds, and their great musicianship inspired me to push it a little further, incorporating polyrhythms, multiphonics, and many of the extended techniques that each musician has mastered.

Michael Gordon  for Madeline
I've spent the past year going in and out of synagogues to say Kaddish for Madeline. Of course she wouldn't have approved of all the praying.  Madeline came from a different world - a world where Jews grew up in ghettos. I realized all of this only much later. There's plenty of  time to think about these things in synagogue because there are so many prayers and who can concentrate on all of them? Madeline loved music and she would take me to concerts when I was little. I would fall asleep but that didn't deter her. She wanted me to love music as much as she did but she certainly did not want me to be a composer. Madeline, are you listening? I
dedicate this piece to your memory.

Erdem Helvacioglu Tales of Oppression and Resistance (parts 6 and 10)
From racism to sexism, from dictatorship to imperialism, be it financial, cultural or religious, every form of oppression that we can think of, do still exist in our modern times. For this piece, I envisioned all six individual members of Bang on a Can All-Stars as figures of controversial ideologies. All twelve movements include the six members’ oppression and resistance stories, one being dark and slowly moving like a dark cloud in the sky, the other being frentic and less controlled. Like a movie with flashbacks, this piece, too, flows in time nonlinearly. The work includes the characteristics of many genres such as hip-hop, electronica, industrial, techno, electroacoustic, punk rock, black metal, ambient, minimalism and free jazz all to serve the idea of oppression and resistance sonically. The electroacoustic treatments of the individual members’ movements are entirely based on that specific instrument’s timbral content.