One way the Bang on a Can All-Stars describe themselves is as “a genre in their own right.” On their upcoming European tour, with performances at the Kampnagel in Hamburg (November 18), Les Halles de Schaerbeek in Brussels (November 19), and Villa Musica in Mainz (November 20-21), their programs confirm this, reading more like new music set lists than traditional concerts. That’s true of this playlist too. Put together by four musicians from the ensemble, it covers post-election blues, self-reflection through microtonality, and the transience of life.
Ashley Bathgate (Cello)
Anohni – “If It Be Your Will” (From the documentary “I’m Your Man”; original song by Leonard Cohen)
This song has always followed me; it usually surfaces during a time when I am feeling extreme happiness or sadness. It was first given to me by a friend who shared my love of Leonard Cohen. I had never heard it sung by anyone before, not even Cohen himself, and it is still my favorite version. At that point, I hadn’t heard of Anohni either, and there was such vulnerability and honesty in this performance. It was the first thing I reached for when I heard the news of Cohen’s passing this week, the day after our most recent presidential election, which left me (and so many of us) heartbroken and at a loss for words. Some musicians just have that thing called timing: it’s like he did it on purpose, like he knew something before we did. Anyway, I always felt that he somehow saw the bigger picture and didn’t feel the need to question it the way the rest of us do. He reminded us that everything has beauty, fragility and impermanence.
Mark Stewart (Guitar)
Harry Partch – “And On The Seventh Day Petals Fell In Petaluma”; Gate 5 Ensemble
I’m listening to a lot of microtonal music right now. The consonances and dissonances that occur are new for most of us; they open up an area of seemingly endless exploration and discovery. This Harry Partch piece is timeless—it would be welcome, mysterious, uplifting, and beautiful whether it had been written 2,000 years ago or five decades in the future. The ritualistic nature of the sounds and the performance take me to a place of contemplative openness. What’s new about it is what you discover in yourself—the music allows for the new in you.
Ben Johnston – “String Quartet No. 2”; Composer Quartet
I’m also listening to the music of Ben Johnston. Feel those intervals, and revel in them.
David Cossin (Percussion)
Leonard Cohen – “You Want It Darker”
For the last few weeks I haven’t been able to get Cohen’s new single “You Want It Darker” out of my head. Cohen was always someone I listened to mainly because of the enthusiasm of my friends; I started reading more about him recently and now with his passing, this song takes on a new resonance. I’m constantly singing this to myself. I love the way his voice is recorded: you can hear his years on this planet and the knowledge that everything comes to an end.
Vicky Chow (Piano)
James Blake – “The Colour in Anything” (Album)
At first I was hesitant about this album—compared to his previous releases, like his self-titled CD (2011) and “Overgrown” (2013), it was a little more sombre, less overtly energetic, more abstract and reflective. “The Colour in Anything” seems more fitting post-U.S. election. There’s a vein of deep sadness running through the music—but it also calls for strength, encouraging us to push forward.
Florence and The Machine – “Dog Days Are Over”
This is the original music video for the song before they got big. I was bummed for a while as they took it down from YouTube and made a fancier new video that would appeal to the masses. I liked the original better: it felt very real, human. As it says in the description, they were running around festivals in clown costumes all summer and then made this video. So whenever I need a pick-me-up, I blast this loud and sing along at the top of my lungs.
Ryoji Ikeda – “Headphonics 0/0”
Another song to be heard loud. Put on some good headphones, and turn it up!