NEW YORK Founded 14 years ago by composers Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe and David Lang as an all-day maverick musical happening, Bang on a Can has evolved into a prestigious music-commissioning entity.
In addition to its annual summer marathons, Peoples Commissioning Fund endeavors and touring chamber ensemble (the Bang on a Can All-Stars), Bang on a Can recently launched its own record company, Cantaloupe Music, in conjunction with the distribution company Harmonia Mundi USA.
"Do we know what we're doing?" Gordon said. "Absolutely not!"
On March 13 Cantaloupe released Renegade Heaven, an entertaining representative set of compositions written for and performed by the All-Stars. The album includes Arnold Dreyblatt's ascending Escalator; Glenn Branca's dense Movement Within; Gordon's I Buried Paul (RealAudio excerpt), a deconstruction of the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever"; Phil Kline's Exquisite Corpses; and Wolfe's "Believing" (RealAudio excerpt).
The notion of starting a record company came about because the organization had scheduled an All-Stars recording session and didn't quite know what to do with the result, the Bang on a Can founding trio said. Point Music released the All-Stars' rendition of Brian Eno's Music for Airports in 1998, but with virtually no interest from the majors in releasing contemporary classical works, the group decided to do it themselves. The Harmonia Mundi partnership clinched the deal.
Cantaloupe's next release will be Lang's album-length The Passing Measures (RealAudio excerpt), a meditatively paced work performed by bass clarinetist Marty Ehrlich and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. Slated to hit stores April 10, the CD is available on Bang on a Can's Web site. This Is Not a Clarinet, a work for extended clarinet techniques written and performed by All-Star Evan Ziporyn, will appear in June.
Further down the road, Cantaloupe will release what Lang characterized as a "very nasty New York version" of Terry Riley's minimalist masterpiece In C, recorded live by the All-Stars last summer.
Asked about the label's budget, Lang deflected the question by noting that "everything this label does has a strange symbiotic relationship with everything else this organization does." Bang on a Can commissions the works, then pays the All-Stars to rehearse, tour and record. "So there's a way," he said, "in which every one of our records is going to cost the entire budget of the organization. Forever."
The ensemble tours the works it commissions, Lang said, because "hearing them once in New York isn't enough," and the record company extends their lives further.
Each year since 1998 Bang on a Can has awarded a small handful of commissions on behalf of the People's Commissioning Fund, which is subsidized by public donations ranging from a few to a few thousand dollars. Bang on a Can also facilitates funding opportunities for composers via grants and foundations such as the Carey Trust, Meet the Composer and Chamber Music America. The group has awarded some 100 commissions since its inception.