Do you know what I want? I want an ensemble. Doesn’t need to be a big one, just 5 or 6 instruments covering all the tonal bases so I can throw notes at them and see what sticks. A group open to experimentation not as a focus but as a tool. A group open to the traditional not as a reaction but out of respect. Basically a team that will put up with conceptual micro-tonal think-pieces and folk-inflected fanfares with equal measure. The impossible dream. At least, an impossible dream for those with pitifully few musical contacts and a deep seated mistrust of institutionalised musicians, like me. It’s my fault, really. I let my lack of proficiency in any particular instrument needle away at me until it was easier to say I wasn’t a musician than was. Rubbish thoughts, obviously, but prevalent enough in my wilderness years to cause lasting effect. What could have been, had I run with the post-modernists instead of, you know, getting a job. I do know one thing for sure, it wouldn’t have been anything like Bang on a Can All-Stars which makes this intro rather redundant.
There is only the now. The past exists merely as records and situations, the future simply as hopes and aims, but the present, that’s forever. I accept that, it’s why I loathe the current fetishisation of nostalgia. The myriad influences and decisions made that pooled into the art and culture of certain periods were unique to those times. If we uproot the finished product without understanding the context, how are we adding to culture? What are we adding to the human experience? Not much. Not to say that there’s anything bad with wearing 50s-style clothes, writing 60s-style music or making 90s-style video games; they’re useful in locating ourselves within cultural history. But a point will come when we’ll have to look forward instead of back and acknowledge that we have to stand on our own, fed by our own myriad influences and decisions. I may want my ensemble in the image of Bang on a Can All-Stars, but the sounds produced would be different. Which makes me sad, because I love these sounds. I love them performing Ghys’ ‘An Open Cage’, I love them performing Wolfe’s ‘Reeling’, I love it all. It’s a philosophical thing. A post-Cageian appreciation of universal sound used as medium. A projection of joy. Something timeless.
I’m reading a really interesting book at the moment about the accessibility of music. It puts forward an idea that to reclaim a positive engagement from the public, modern music needs to be accessible (at least I think it does, I’ve only just started it). The underlying statement being that ‘complex’ music has shriveled in relevance due to it’s inaccessibility whereas popular music has risen in popularity specifically because it’s ‘easier’ to understand. I hate these arguments. There are no right or wrong ways to write or experience music, just do what you like. That’s what Bang on a Can All-Stars have done. Their performances drag me in. You can feel them feeding off one another like a rock group. They’re enjoying what they’re playing, simple patterns placed in complex arrangements wrapped in dense structural filigree. It is accessible to me, from my lofty studious tower. But I think it should be accessible to you too, Ghys’ piece is after all very much of the New York jazz tradition; the funky, funky New York jazz tradition. The effortless way in which he finds groove within the cadence of John Cage’s spoken word is just cool. Sure, it may get discordant a little bit, but it resolves into such beauty. A great piece by an exceptionally great group.
I want an ensemble. One in the vein of Bang on a Can All-Stars but in our own image, building on their philosophy and adding our own histories. Staring ahead and mushing genre and form together in a smårgås of happy expression. Making music for our time. I’d be honoured if you’d come join me.