Bang on a Can is one of the durable ensembles of New York's downtown scene. Actually one might use the word "projects" instead of "ensembles," for the group's membership has varied quite a bit by recording. The Bang on a Can All-Stars heard here are frequent contributors, and putting them together into the configuration of cello, bass, keyboards, percussion, guitars, and clarinets has inspired a happy need for fresh commissions. It is noteworthy that the primary financial framework here is British, not American. But no matter: the group has convincingly united material by quite diverse composers under a novel thematic umbrella. The Field Recordings of the title are not necessarily ethnomusicological field recordings in the conventional sense of the term, although many of them would qualify, but preexisting recorded matter in general. The composers involved thus seek to create a sort of classical analogue to hip-hop sampling, minus the beats, where the composer adds to and comments upon the material in the recording used. The composers come from the world of indie rock (Tyondai Braxton and Bryce Dessner) as well contemporary classical and electronic music, and the result is a wide variety of conceptions that should stretch any listener's mind. Some standouts include Todd Reynolds' Seven Sundays (track 8), utilizing old recordings of African American preachers whose cadences have a musical as well as a verbal component already, and the opening Reeling by Bang on a Can co-founder Julia Wolfe, which manipulates recordings of Irish reels. Mileage may vary as far as favorites go, but listeners are likely to find the collection a stimulating piece of evidence that this venerable group of experimenters continues to push boundaries.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2