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DVD: Music for Airports / In the Ocean

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Brian Eno, Music for Airports / In the Ocean, Bang on a Can All-Stars (directed by Frank Scheffer)

(released on January 27, 2009)
Medici Arts EDV 1333 3077558
This DVD is a double-bill by and about the Bang on a Can composers' collective, two very different films directed by Dutch documentary filmaker Frank Scheffer. The first is an adaptation of Brian Eno's 1978 album of ambient music Ambient 1: Music for Airports, originally conceived as a sound installation to be played on continuous loop. A set of repeating chords (especially closely related mediant chords melting into one another) with slight variations for piano and clouds of synthesized sounds (strings, voices), it was supposedly inspired by an unexpected layover Eno suffered at Cologne-Bonn Airport, and it was eventually installed at LaGuardia. The concept might lead you to think that the music is nightmarish, an endless wait that circles back upon itself, but it is really just a dreamy wash, amelodic, like a mind lost in thought, at the edge of sleep.

The can-banging holy trinity of Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe each made an arrangement of Eno's piece, to form a four-movement suite with a final arrangement by their associate clarinetist Evan Ziporyn. The group's performance of these arrangements provides the soundtrack to Scheffer's 1999 film, four tableaux made with the camera more or less severely out of focus. The shots are slow-motion views of airports, people walking through a revolving door, jets taxiing, people pushing luggage carts or pulling suitcases. Images come more or less into comprehensibility and just as quickly dissolve into blobs of color, that flow back and forth in a way reminiscent of the lava lamp. You will probably see this movie put on continuous loop in the chill room of the next rave you attend.

The second feature, In the Ocean, is a more straight-laced documentary by Scheffer about the history of the Bang on a Can festival and its associated movements in modern music. There are spoken contributions from and excerpts of music by John Cage, Philip Glass, (a fairly angry) Steve Reich, Elliott Carter, Louis Andriessen, as well as the can-bangers themselves. It is informative, thought-provoking, and aesthetically pleasing. Worth a look for anyone with an interest in contemporary music.


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