In their second CD for Sony Classical, the Bang on a Can All-Stars administer another dose of belligerent ‘crossover’. Once again, the presentation is pop rather than classical in orientation, combining brilliant, state-of-the-art sound with irritating booklet typography. The minimalist fascination with repetitive, gradually evolving structures is a constant but there’s a lighter, more playful tone this time round, further distancing the project from mainstream ‘classical’ expectations. Where the music of Louis Andriessen provided the focus for “Industry” (Sony Classical, 2/96), the maverick composer Frederic Rzewski is the pivotal figure here. His Piano Piece No. IV from 1977 may only last 6'21'' but, as Lisa Moore puts it, “It’s an acoustic phenomenon, a perpetual pulsating”. Rzewski doffs his cap to Stockhausen, but he starts from the percussive possibilities opened up by Bartok and the climax of his virtuosic display is “a simple folk tune”. His optimistic, energetic eclecticism is mirrored in the musical games on offer elsewhere.
Closest to the more militant aesthetic of “Industry”, David Lang’s Cheating, Lying, Stealing launches the programme with “a series of unreliable, imperfect repetitions”; not without humour – the results should appeal to admirers of Steve Martland. The Manufacture of Tangled Ivory by Annie Gosfield is less rigorous, taking off from keyboard improvisation to encompass a range of idioms from Soviet constructivism to Sonic Youth. Evan Ziporyn’s Tsmindao Ghmerto is a bizarre attempt to replicate the three-part harmony of a Georgian chorus using only his bass clarinet and a range of avowedly modernist techniques (multiphonics, vocalizing down the instrument and so forth) more usually associated with clarinettists such as Suzanne Stephens (for Stockhausen) or Alan Hacker (Birtwistle and Maxwell Davis).
There are more direct overtones of Japanese court music or gagaku in Red Shift – Lois V. Vierk’s rock jam session with orientalist banana skins. Nick Didkovsky’s Amalia’s Secret is at once the most eclectic and the most conventionally ‘musical’ work on offer, a stylistically haphazard set of variations apparently motivated by Kafka, cold weather and a computerized version of the William Burroughs/David Bowie cut-up-and-paste technique. There are passages redolent of Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, blistering electric guitar solos, and a few sustained, quiet sections which provided this listener at least with a welcome breathing-space. Maya Beiser even gets the chance to show what an eloquent cellist she can be. Hermeto Pascoal’s Arapua is the exhilaratingly off-beat encore: no one could deny the extraordinary panache of the playing.
Running to more than 68 minutes, the disc makes a more surrealistic impression than its predecessor. If “Industry” was a manifesto – a bruising assault on the soothing, pseudo-spiritual escapism of the Holy Minimalists on the one hand and the excessive, barely heard complexities of the Modernist Old Guard on the other – “Cheating, Lying, Stealing” is more relaxed about things. Hedonism rules, it seems, although the group’s avatars put it another way, confident that these avowedly “flashy pieces” contain “deep, rough comments” ready to “explode” into your consciousness. Be that as it may, the performances as such are first-rate and the sounds (whatever you make of them) are guaranteed to give your speakers a good work-out.'