Members of Wilco and Sonic Youth turn avant-garde at Krannert

As much as it may seem so after Pygmalion, CU isn’t quite over with music festivals for the year.
Come Saturday, September 27, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts will be host to the Bang on a Can Marathon. The 12-hour festival will bring a host of music, ranging from classical to avant-garde to just about any other genre imaginable.
The festival will feature the Bang on a Can All-Stars, a classical/avant-garde/minimal/catch-all ensemble, performing with various groups, including composers and performers from the University.
However, the marathon will also showcase the likes of Glenn Kotche, drummer for Wilco, and Lee Ranaldo, guitarist for Sonic Youth, both abandoning their discipline in rock in favor of unexplored oppurtunities in avant-garde compositions.
“I have had a genuine desire to explore these areas,” Kotche said in reference to his composition work. “I love being in a rock band, but there is this other side of me that likes to do things on my own. I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t in a rock band, but I wouldn’t be happy if I couldn’t do these other things.”
Kotche, who holds a music performance degree from the University of Kentucky, will be performing his composition entitled “Snap” alongside pieces from his 2006 solo effort, Mobile.
“When we started recording the last Wilco record, I got into listening soul music,” he said. “I was listening to a lot of Stax Records (a soul label founded in Memphis, Tenn.) from the ’60s and ’70s. I got the idea to use that as a jumping-off place [for ‘Snap’].”
What resulted was an 11-minute piece that came from certain parts of Stax songs. Kotche said he would lift a melody line from one song, a bass line from another and a drum rhythm from yet another. What resulted was “a piece that sounds nothing like that music.”
On the other hand, Ranaldo’s piece, entitled “How Deep Are Rivers? (A Map Is a Good Piece of Paper),” may be more akin to the music of Sonic Youth. “There is a serious kind of tone to it,” he said. “It goes through a few different moods, from heavy and serious to more rocking sections.”
The music is based around different tonalities that build and build in intensity as the piece moves on. “One of the players likened the score of my piece to MapQuest directions,” Ranaldo said. “There are a lot of structured sections, but there are free-flowing sections as well. You know you have to hit a chord at a certain part, but there is a lot of room for open-ended playing.”
Ranaldo and Kotche are just two of the pieces of the Bang on a Can Marathon’s puzzle. Evan Ziporyn has been with the Bang on a Can All-Stars since 1992 as a clarinet (of many kinds) player and said the idea for the marathon came from having a festival where boundaries are shattered.
“What we found when we do these things is that it gives people a chance to check out different kinds music, to listen in a different way,” Ziporyn said.
Ziporyn said he and the rest of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, which includes Robert Black on bass, David Cossin on drums and percussion and Mark Stewart on guitars, basically act as a “house band” for the marathon shows.
“Our basic commitment is to have an adventurous spirit,” Ziporyn said. “Whether it’s contemporary classic or minimalism, indie rock, electronic or jazz. There is no real aesthetic principle other than we are looking for people who are looking to push boundaries.”
The Bang on a Can Marathon will take place at the Colwell Playhouse of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana, at 12 p.m. Sept. 27. The performance will also feature works by Brian Eno, Steve Reich and Ziporyn himself, among others.

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