Friday, October 17, 2008

Louis Andriessen

Bang on a Can All-Stars performing Louis Andriessen's Worker's Union

When the Bang on a Can All-Stars came through a couple months ago, the highlight of their six-hour performance was the above piece (this might have been taped at the Baton Rouge performance, from looking at it.) From BoaC's David Lang:

Workers Union (1975) is the young(ish) Louis Andriessen's contribution to this approach. Everything is specified in this piece except the notes - the rhythms, the phrases, the attitude are all there, but not the notes. It is clearly a piece that owes something to the American experimental tradition but what that thing is is hard to hear. To me, that's interesting.

Basically, it is an indeterminate piece to be performed by a group of loud instruments acting as one, the melodies and overall output being determined by the collective actions of the performers; in other words, it will continue as long as the performers continue and when one stops, they all stop. Simple enough, the principle on which all things should go when you think about it, and then more profound when you really think about it.

This is the kind of big conceptual talk that got me excited as a young music explorer, but have found over the years that the results rarely can pay the check the score tends to write. This is a glaring exception. Everyone in the hall, all 43 of us anyway, were ready to take to the streets with this piece to set the establishment ablaze with our zeal, to topple the towers with the fresh wind of collective endeavor.

Performance of Andriessen's Dances by an ensemble of the
Rotterdam Conservatory conducted by Henk Guittart (in four parts)

This is a far more contemplative side of Andriessen, or at least at the beginning, twinkling progressions of notes like footprints in the snow, disappearing into the fog. Thanks to the percussionist Oscar Alblas for posting these, and for YouTube for conducting whatever its nefarious secret purpose may be that allows these things to be available. As it progresses, it almost gets a little South Pacific, like drowsy dreams of languid hula girls have invading the closed-circuit thinking of the academy.

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