Bang On A Can
So, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe and I met. Michael and I met at the Aspen Music Festival in 1977. And then Michael and I found out that we were in the same class at graduate school at Yale, years later. And so, we became fast friends and we would talk about — basically it’s very hard to find someone in the world that you are on the same wavelength with, especially when you’re talking about something as squishy as expressing yourself through the vibration of sound in the air. And so, lots of people do it, and lots of people have very different ideas about what the heck it is they’re doing. But somehow, when I talked to Michael, I thought you know something, I get this guy. And I think he felt the same about me.
We liked the same music, we thought about it in a similar way, we thought about ourselves in a similar way, and we could really enjoy talking about these things, which are very hard to talk about, and which composers, a lot of times, don’t talk about with each other; because it is too personal, and because it is so difficult to be on the same plane with them.1
So, then Michael met Julie, they fell in love, and we all started meeting every day. We would just meet every single day. And a lot of times we would just complain about how terrible our lives were, but a lot of the complaints were about this other thing. It’s like how do you build an audience that comes and wants to hear music that it hasn’t heard before? And this is a tremendously important issue for people who are in experimental music, but it’s also an issue for young composers, because back in 1987, when we started Bang on a Can, I was perhaps a little more successful at that moment than Michael and Julie. And I had already had the experience of getting my music played on festivals, and getting it played with major orchestras, and I’d already been composer in residence with the New York Philharmonic.2
And so, I had seen a lot of things up close that really pissed me off. One of them being that young composers and old composers are treated very differently, you know? So, you hear a piece by a famous composer and you give it the benefit of the doubt. You hear a piece by a young composer, and you already challenge it or question it or evaluate it differently, because you’re listening for whether or not that person’s going to mess up, or whether or not that person is deserving of your attention. And it seemed like if you made a long list of all the obstacles for a young composer in an experimental culture to be successful, there’s a lot of things that need to get changed.
And after a while of complaining, Michael and Julie and I just started making a list of all the things that we thought needed to be changed in order to build the world we wanted to live in. And because of that, we had to define what’s the world you want to live in, what’s the kind of world that makes sense for the kind of music you’d like to listen to, and the kind of music you want to write, and the kind of relationship you want to have with your colleagues and the kind of relationship you want to have with your culture.