Bang on a Can at Mass MoCA creates vibes, beats


NORTH ADAMS -- Some composers will spend hours in an isolated room writing mel odies and tweaking riffs until the song is finished. Other musicians find inspiration through jamming with friends and piecing the music together as it feels right.

But it's not often a musician gets a chance to workshop, collaborate and perform with artists from 17 countries.

Mass MoCA serves as a hub for international students who will gather in the 12th annual Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival. This year, the fellows come from eight U.S. states, as well as Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Hong Kong, and Ireland.

For three weeks, 37 fellows will rehearse and perform contemporary music under the guidance of and alongside 12 faculty members -- Nobel Prize nominees and winners, as well as musicians who have played with artists such as Yo-Yo Ma, the Blue Man Group, Stevie Wonder and orchestras.

"So much of making music is collaborative," said Julia Wolfe, musician, composer and co-founder of Bang on a Can. "Musicians need each other. They come into this program with an adventurous spirit and try new ideas."

Founders David Lang and Michael Gordon and Wolfe wanted to emphasize the importance of fellows working closely with experienced musicians while sharing new ideas and collaborations with one another.

"This is different than any other festival," said Todd Reynolds, violinist and faculty member for Bang on a Can. "We play with the fellows, not just coach. Fellows get a chance to perform with those who are older and have more experience."

"The Bang on a Can goal is to break down formality or the thought that you should follow this or that rule," Wolfe said. "Crack it open; be free to make music. It's unbelievable what comes out of this."

From this experience, Bang on a Can fellows go on to have successful careers. Past alumni have created their own record labels, their own bands, ensembles and festivals and bands.

Along with rehearsals and performances, the fellows also learn to become musical entrepreneurs. Most are between the ages of 20 and 40, jumping into their careers.

Brendon Randall-Myers performed as a fellow last year, and he will return this year as a composer.

"My experience last year was the best three weeks of music making that I've had," he said. "It's an incredible environment in many ways. It feels like a unifying experience."

Randall-Myers grew up in San Francisco playing guitar in a punk rock band. Now 26, he is working toward getting his masters at Yale University. He finds working with the faculty and other fellows an awesome experience.

"The sense of comradery is special," he said. "Everyone is excited about the same music, and they're open to what you're personally doing. It's a group that has a lot of the same values and yet there's diversity in many ways applicable to the field. Not to mention they're insanely good players."

While a performer rehearses and plays the music, the composer has the freedom to tinker and fine-tune a piece.

"Composing is about building something," Wolfe said. "Perf ormers love being onstage. We all love music, but there is incredibly different disciplines doing both. I love playing music; I really like spending hours writing. I think that you find the thing that is your driving passion."

"My goal is realizing the composer's vision as best I can with tools I have," Randall-Myers said. "That seems to be what being a performer of classical music is: trying to interact with composer through score as best I can."

When he performs his own music, he said, he is constantly revising until he creates something that would draw himself in as a listener.

"I don't write at the guitar same way people write at the piano," he said. "I want to create something I want to listen to in a performance situation that's engaging or challenging in some way."

For three weeks, musicians will perform in the galleries, in any space that inspires them. Last year, Randall-Myers found inspiration in a darkly lit room with windmills and plastic bottles filled with light.

"It had this incredibly soothing, whooshing noise," he said.

"Music, visual and conceptual art, dance, photography and film work together on same plane," Reynolds said. "Every person who does music needs to be aware of other arts around them. We really encourage our fellows interact with museum as a whole."

Reynolds is looking forward to teaching the performers conductive sign language, called Sound Painting, an improvisation technique developed by Walter Thomson. In this lesson, Reynolds will conduct the fellows with sign-language symbols that a traditional conductor would not use.

Thomson created this technique after attending Berklee School of Music. He developed hand and body gestures to create real-time compositions. The performers, without music in front of them, watch the Sound Painter closely for instruction. The conductor does not always know what type of sound will come from them.

"I take what they give me and organize sound to make a piece," he said.

Performing music in the present moment is a long tradition of classical music that Reynolds believes we need today.

"It's so fitting to do this at Mass MoCA," he said. "They have the same mission that we do: to bring the art world together." If you go ...

What: Bang on a Can Festival

Where: Mass MoCA

When: Recitals on weekdays
at 1:30 p.m. and Monday
to Saturdays at 4:30 p.m. in the Mass MoCA galleries to Aug. 3.

Admission: Museum admission

Admission: Museum admission

'Steel Hammer' by Julia Wolfe Saturday at 8 p.m.

Admission: $24.

When: Downstreet Arts tonight at 7

Concert at Windsor Lake on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Admission: free



(413) 662-2111


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