Music for Airports
Brian Eno’s seminal ambient masterpiece
as performed by Bang On A Can
also Annie Gosfield, Glen Branca and Arnold Dreyblatt
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, NY, NY.
March 7, 1998
I first heard about the Bang On A Can transcriptions on Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports last year when I endured the annual BOAC marathon. A transcription many people asked. Why? Dumb question. Cash for Eno. Cash for BOAC. Homage. Whatever. I went for the other composers anyway (more on that later).
The transcription is a bit more then that: also a re-orchestration, there were a few parts that weren’t on the original. A repeated microtonal ornament by the cellist, an out of tune trumpet in 1/1. During 1/2, the percussionist whipped out some brake drums and played them by rubbing something around the inside rim like a tibetan bowl. This resulted in a cool shimmering scraping sound like Superman lifting a manhole cover but what was it doing in 1/2??? What was that all about? Halfways through the tour, DJ Spooky will probably be up there spinning records.
Despite those problems, the BOAC arrangement (at least on cd) is stunning. The percussionist’s gong, vibes, marimba and tubular bells – among other instruments – with the piano, lend an almost Harold Budd atmosphere to the proceedings. Bowed vibraphone always lifts music to heaven and it’s use during 2/2 did just that.
Annie Gosfield’s been getting an increasing number of performances in NYC and tonight’s performance of “The Manufacture of Tangled Ivory” was another example of her fascination with detuned piano. In the first section, various studio enhanced samples of piano are pounded abstractly – early 20th century angst – on a keyboard. Followed by a thrashing band unison section where the guitar player would mute and slash at the strings and the cello and acoustic bassist abuse one note or drum on the bodies of their instruments. Likewise, the drummer, who sounded incredible in this hall, pounded out time on the toms. A regular uptown/downtown jungle/20th century angst fest.
When I got the promo post card from BOAC, I doubted that Glenn Branca was still a microtonalist. I thought that Branca abandoned just intonation, but apparently the BOAC commission “Movement Within” does the trick. Reviving his home made instruments: two keyboards, an organ, a guitar, a hammered dulcimer and a approximately 9 foot long steel guitar – all microtonal harmonic series tunings – this was the jaw dropping work of the evening. Nice stereo mix too, I was sitting in the back of the hall and the two keyboards seemed to be panned left and right, huge harmonic chords making the room pulse back and forth.
Arnold Dreyblatt’s “Escalator” is based on recordings of malfunctioning escalators. The band would hammer away on one note while the drums pounded with Beefheartian rhythms. Tense harmonies abruptly gave way to gentler sections while still maintaining typical Dreyblatt rhythms. “Escalator” sounded less like a malfunctioning escalators than an insanely mad town orchestra. BOAC should commission more works by New York City microtonalists like Branca and Dreyblatt.
Originally published online at Juxtaposition Ezine.