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In Their Words: Bang on a Can All-Stars’ Field Recordings

In 2012, we hosted the premiere of a brand new musical project from New York collective, Bang on a Can All-Stars, which saw artists from across a spectrum of musical worlds take inspiration from found music and archive sounds to create something new in Field Recordings.

‘For our own Field Recordings we asked the composers to go into the field of recorded sound itself – to find something old or record something new, and to respond with their own music, in dialogue with what they found’, they explain. ‘Using archival audio, found sound and video, Field Recordings builds a bridge between the seen and the unseen, the present and absent, the past and the future.’

This year, Bang on a Can All-Stars return for Field Recordings: Vol 2, performing new music from more artists including Julia Wolfe, Bryce Dessner, Steve Reich, Dan Deacon and Anna Clyne.

Ahead of this weekend’s performance, we find out more about the sounds that inspired their pieces…

Julia Wolfe, Reeling

‘For my field recording I’ve used a beautiful clip of a French Canadian singer, Benoit Benoit. He sings a very special kind of music that’s basically the music that you make when you don’t have a fiddle or banjo handy. He makes music with his mouth. In this case he strings syllables together in a twirling sing-song way. I started the piece from a very pure place, with just his voice and make a bridge from his world to mine which is much more cacophonous and urban. But there is a personal connection for me in folk – where my music making began. I’m connecting my own history to his singing.’

Christian Marclay, Fade to Slide

‘Fade to Slide (2012) continues my exploration into the use of video to create a framework in which live music can develop. Short fragments of mainly Hollywood films are edited into a rapid succession of events which the musicians use as a structure for their performance. While my earlier video-scores were mostly silent, this time I kept a lot of the original soundtracks. The musicians are not asked to literally interpret on-screen actions, as in a foley studio, but let the images prompt musical reactions to create a mimetic transposition between image and sound, as if one became the other. The audience is implicated in the music as it tries to understand the relationship between the video and the musician’s interpretation. Memory also plays a role, as even a silent image can conjure a sound in our imagination.’

Steve Reich, The Cave of Machpelah

‘In the Bible, Abraham buys a cave from Ephron the Hittite as a burial place for his wife Sarah. In Jewish mystical sources the cave is also a passageway back to the Garden of Eden. It is said that Adam and Eve are buried there. Today the cave, located in the town of Hebron, is completely built over and inaccessible. The ancient structures built above it reveal not only the wall Herod erected around the cave, but also the remains of a Byzantine church, and finally the mosque built in the 12th century. Since 1967 the mosque built above the cave remains under Moslem jurisdiction, while Israel maintains a presence at the site. The site remains unique as the only place on earth where Jews and Moslems both worship.’

Jóhan Jóhannsson, Hz

‘Hz consists of a film and synchronized sound effects, with a live musical score. The film is based on slowed down black and white super 8 footage I shot in Iceland in the summer of 2012. The subject is a hydroelectric power station from the 1920’s located in Elliðaárdalur, near Reykjavik. The station is not in use anymore and is currently a museum, but it is powered up once a year to keep the dynamos functional. In addition to the images, I recorded the sounds of the machinery in operation. The film’s soundtrack incorporates these sounds, processed, pitched down and manipulated and synced up to the images. The musical score is in a dialogue with the images and the recorded sound. The piece is partly inspired by a chapter in The Education of Henry Adams called ‘The Dynamo and the Virgin’.’

Anna Clyne, Wonderful Day

‘On a chilly autumn evening, I was walking down Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. In front of me, an elderly man was slowly strolling; his walking-cane tapping on the concrete with each step. He was singing with a raw, slow voice which had an immediate sense of both joy and struggle. I scurried up, and asked if he’d mind me recording him. He said yes, and we continued to walk southward as he sang. Then he stopped and we chatted a little. I asked him his name and whether he’d mind me setting his voice to music. Willie Barbee’s face lit up with the idea.

A Wonderful Day sets Willie’s voice – spoken and sung – with the instruments of the Bang on a Can All-Stars who provide a gentle bed of sound. My editing of the original recordings is minimal so as to preserve the directness of Willie’s voice and the surrounding sounds of traffic, people chatting and the tapping of his cane.’

Watch archive videos of Bang on a Can All-Stars talking about Field Recordings on our YouTube channel

Bang on a Can All-Stars: Field Recordings Vol 2 takes place on Sunday 17 April in Milton Court Concert Hall.