Lang Passing Measures
The American composer David Lang (b 1957) is best known as an exponent of ‘Bang on a Can’ minimalism, and Canteloupe Music is part of the same enterprise. But there is no banging, no laid-back rhythmic exuberance in The Passing Measures. This is meditative, if not exactly holy, minimalism, and although it’s not the case that absolutely nothing changes over the piece’s 42 minutes – you have only to go back to the beginning immediately after the end to realise that its sustained harmony has progressed (slowly) – the emphasis is on doing as little as possible, by way of varying dynamics, textures or tone colour, to dramatise that change.
The leaflet says little about the piece itself, and the tendency to offer more information on the record company’s website than on the package available for purchase is one I deplore. However, it is clear that The Passing Measures is an ‘in memoriam’, and its solemn tone is far from inexpressive. The slowly shifting harmony is basically consonant, but set in the kind of sonic haze (the instruments are amplified, but not otherwise manipulated electronically) which justifies the concentration on middle to lower registers. Lang says that the work grew from ‘a 10-minute piece for 10 musicians into a 40-minute piece for 40 musicians’, and the original conception might have been more interesting to listeners who can never quite accept that a composition can change so little over so long a period. Performance and recording have an appropriately rapt atmosphere, but the blend is everything, with the ‘solo’ bass clarinet barely emerging from the collective sonority as an individual voice. Anything more would be too dramatic, I suppose