NORTH ADAMS — Sonic expansion has been central to Bang on a Can's music marathons, which have been held at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art since 2002. The six-hour parades of innovative sounds have typically concluded the organization's annual summer residencies at the North Adams institution, drawing spectators from great distances — so great, in fact, that a different kind of expansion was in order for this year's festival.
"We thought if people were making such an effort to come this long distance, maybe we could actually show them more collisions. We could show them more different kinds of music and expand our reach a little bit," said David Lang, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who founded Bang on a Can with Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon. " ... We thought if they were going to make an effort for us, we can make more of an effort for them."
As a result, Bang on a Can is debuting the Loud Weekend at Mass MoCA this year. Starting Friday at 4 p.m. and wrapping up on Sunday, the three-day festival features a more extensive lineup of minimal, experimental and electronic music than the traditional marathon. Sun Ra Arkestra, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Julianna Barwick, Pamela Z and Michael Riesman's new arrangement of Philip Glass' "Dracula" music for Bang on a Can fellows are among the weekend's highlights. (One headliner, Ben Frost, had to cancel.) Festivalgoers can expect to see plenty of machinery during performances.
"One of the little sub-festivals — this idea that runs through the whole Loud Weekend — is people's relationship to technology," Lang said.
Classical pieces that aren't normally amplified will be, and musician-built equipment will be ubiquitous.
"This idea of the human being and the machine trying to play as one is something that goes through a lot of these pieces," Lang said. "Julianna Barwick is a moody, atmospheric singer who makes all of her accompaniment right in front of you with machines. Pamela Z is someone who makes machines that react to her based on where she's standing and where her arms move. Kind of like a theremin, the sounds react to how she moves through space. Lesley Flanigan builds her own machines and explores what those machines can do. And then at the far other end of the spectrum, we have the composer Annie Gosfield, whose music is actually based on the sounds of factories."
Lang is looking forward to seeing Sun Ra Arkestra (8:30 p.m. Saturday, Hunter Center), the group that draws from the late experimental jazz musician's ingenuity — and affinity for outer space.
"The idea that these people are keeping this incredible tradition up — it's really a spectacle to come and see them," Lang said.
A performance of ambient music legend Brian Eno's "Discreet Music" by Canadian group Contact also has Lang excited.
"[Eno] theorized how great it would be to make this music that would be giving a lot of love and care to the background music in your life," Lang said. "The music in your background that you don't usually pay attention to — that music should be as carefully constructed as the music which is in your foreground."
Lang himself will be sharing a piece, "prayers for night and sleep," near the conclusion of Sunday's schedule.
"I had this idea of a very kind of intimate duet between a cellist and a singer and then with an ensemble of people that are sort of watching them, sort of echoing, sort of holding onto the music that just happened in front of them," Lang said. "So, it's really a piece for two people with an ensemble of people watching them. And the texts are texts I made. The first was in two movements. The first movement is a catalog of things that one should be afraid of at night, and then the second movement is a prayer to keep those things from hurting you."
The weekend's final event will allow everyone in attendance to pay homage to the late composer Pauline Oliveros by participating in her "Sonic Meditations."
"This an opportunity for us all to sing together and close it out," Lang said. "I definitely think that that's a highlight for me."
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.