5 Questions to Bang on a Can About LOUD Weekend

Bang On A Can needs no introduction, but here’s one anyway. Founded in 1987 by Julia Wolfe, Michael Gordon, and David Lang, Bang on a Can was formed to generate adventurous programming, commission composers, bring in new audiences, educate young musicians, and present 12 hours of new music to the masses at a time. Not intent on being just another performing arts organization, BOAC has been supporting new music through initiatives like the People’s Commissioning Fund, staged productions, the Summer Festival, and of course, their annual Marathon concerts.

This year, BOAC is tripling their marathon with the LOUD weekend; three days, 30 concerts, and a ton of cutting edge music. We asked the Bang on a Can founders five questions about the upcoming festival and their thoughts on the long-form concert experience.

What will set this LOUD weekend apart from previous festivals?

We’ve packed 30+ concerts into 48 hours. It’s immersion and overload. It’s the first time Bang on a Can is experimenting with this format–one that we’ve experienced at Big Ears with great enthusiasm. Anyone who is used to the leisurely pace of the Bang on a Can Marathons of past years will be in for a jolt. We’ve invited an eclectic mix of composers and ensembles to perform on the festival along side festival musicians that are 50+ strong. In a certain way, it’s the best of all worlds, as Bang on a Can becomes performer, producer, and presenter rolled into one. 

It looks like, from reading the schedule, that this latest festival will be bringing in some artists from outside the usual new/experimental music circles. What prompted this new direction?

As curators, we have always been listening to and programming artists working on the edge of many music genres–classical, experimental, jazz, rock, ambient, electronic, and more. For this first go at LOUD Weekend, we wanted to bring in some of our favorite artists that we’ve worked with over the years, but who may not have had their work performed at MASS MoCA, or maybe not in this context. Most of the artists that I think you may be alluding to have in fact appeared at Bang on a Can Marathons and concerts over the years, so that is to say, the “new direction” is more about the format of how we’re presenting all these artists.

There are 48 hours of weird, off-the-grid, ear-warping, mind-exploding, non-commercial, music including eight world premieres, Sun Ra Arkestra, Philip GlassDracula, Dither, Contact (from Toronto) playing Eno’s Discreet Music LIVE (+a bunch of great Canadian music including Ann Southam), Tristan Perich, Annie Gosfield, Julianna Barwick, Pamela Z, Brendon Randall-Myers‘ ecstatic electric guitar quartet, the totally amazing Schnee by Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen, Annea Lockwood‘s rarely heard sonic-mind-trip Thousand Year Dreaming, Peter Maxwell Davies‘ proto-performance-art Eight Songs for a Mad King, Soo Yeon Lyuh playing new works written for the ancient Korean instrument Haegeum, Lesley Flanigan, a couple of pieces by Julius Eastman… and there’s a lot more stuff. 

Pamela Z--Photo by rubra (courtesy of Ars Electronica)

Pamela Z–Photo by rubra (courtesy of Ars Electronica)

What drew you to the ultra-long from concert experience, and why did you decide to triple it for the LOUD weekend?

The Marathon format, which we started with in 1987, really breaks down the formality of the concert experience and the box it puts one in as a listener. The greatest thing about the Bang on a Can Marathon was that people talked to each other–it was a relaxed and open enough atmosphere to bring in new listeners. LOUD Weekend is going to be so so special because it’s all happening on the campus of MASS MoCA. It’s going to be, for all of the music that’s being played, an intimate listening experience. We are limiting the audience size because we are expecting deep intense listeners to show up. 

Do you worry about your audience becoming oversaturated in these long-form settings? 

Our short reply is, “no, we’re not worried!” The three-day “music festival” has been a successful “destination” format for some time. Woodstock was 50 years ago this summer! And of course, Bang on a Can has been programming 10-12-24 hour Marathon concerts for 30+ years. There are so many amazing creative ideas and so many brilliant composers and virtuoso performers that the whole experience is more energizing than tiring. Part of our job as curators is to make it possible for the audience to sail through, endure, and experience what may look like an impossible schedule, but come through it energized and inspired.

Anyone whose ears get overloaded can take a walk into the art galleries, go get a beer at Bright Ideas brewery right on the MASS MoCA campus, walk into North Adams for a bite to eat, or just hang under the upside-down trees until they’re ready for another concert. 

Bang on a Can All-Stars--Photo by Lisa Bauso

Bang on a Can All-Stars–Photo by Lisa Bauso

Bang on a Can has many initiatives that support the creation and presentation of new music, particularly through cross-disciplinary collaborations. How do you see these avenues expanding as BOAC continues to grow? 

Most of Bang on a Can’s followers know us for the 12-hour Marathons and the touring ensembles we house, the Bang on a Can All-Stars and Asphalt Orchestra. At LOUD Weekend, you’ll get to meet Found Sound Nation, a BoaC project that addresses social justice, music diplomacy, and community action through a host of initiatives including the OneBeat Festival. As BoaC moves forward, we see ourselves getting more involved in music as a community builder and a path towards peace and understanding.