David Lang

David Lang: The Passing Measures

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The second installment in Bang on a Can's own label, Cantaloupe Music, is as wonderful their Renegade Heaven disc, though it couldn't be more different. David Lang has composed a 42-minute piece of music based on one chord performed by 40 musicians. His concern that the fast, snappy music that permeated people's existence at this point in history blurred and made completely invisible the passage of time -- or people's wanting to think about it -- is what inspired this slower-than-slow ambient meditation on time. As the orchestra -- which is electronically amplified -- plays one elongated chord over several measures and then repeats it in the same way ad infinitum, the soloists respond to it with notes that are so painfully elongated that they have to stop and take breaths. As a result, time becomes its own map, its own terrain, its own character of beauty, myth, and text. This is shapeless music that has as its armor an imposing architecture, one of beauty and silence. It's true Morton Feldman is called to mind here, but the major difference between Lang and Feldman is that Lang is already aware of the relationships his harmonies have to one another and how his chord plays out, whereas for Feldman that was an investigation; the score was the field where those relationships would create, dispute, and dissipate themselves in favor of other ones. As Ehrlich plays a "C" about ten minutes into the piece, his note offers the listener a door into another reality, into stillness -- because if even the soloist is playing the root note that this glorious chord is based on, it must be rooted in a more basic element: that of stillness, and nothing marks the passage of time or its complete absorption into eternity like stillness. For fans of ambient music, this is a bar higher than any imagined. For those interested in Feldman's music, there is something of its haunted heartwrought beauty here. For post-rock fans who are taken with music by Stars of the Lid, Labradford, M, and that ilk, this will move you in the same way. And finally, for those fans of minimalism that thought mode was the very thing that the musical world turned on, this might turn you around. As John Cage wrote about the music of Feldman once that his music was "...beautiful. Sometimes too beautiful..." that same dictum can be applied here. More elemental that Arvo Pärt's tintinnabuli style, and as expressive in its simplicity as the work of Peter Garland, Lang has given listeners a great gift: to listen with great attention to the passage of time as their hearts are brought into the presence of the great stillness they all hold within them. This work is a startling work of great beauty and profound implications.

Track Listing

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