The name Bang on a Can brings to mind a robust cacophony of sound. But this New York-based ensemble is far more than noisy spectacle. The group, which started with a 12-hour experimental concert in 1987, creates a lush landscape of music that runs the gamut from orchestral to experimental to jazz and everything in between, with a rhythmic vitality that hits the listener in a visceral way.
Miami audiences will get to experience the Bang on a Can All-Stars for the first time Saturday, as Miami Light Project closes out its 25th anniversary season by presenting the ground-breaking band at its Wynwood space, The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse.
“The organization started with the idea that they [Bang on a Can] would be the ones to bridge a divide that had existed in New York in the 1980s,” says Bang on a Can clarinetist Ken Thomson over the phone about the group’s origins. “Between so-called uptown and downtown music — meaning music that was coming more from the academy or the school scene, and people … coming from the downtown scene.”
Miami Light Project artistic and executive director Beth Boone calls the group world-class.
“This is one of the most important orchestral groups in the United States, with some of the most significant composers of the 20th and 21st century,” says Boone. “For the music community, they are a really big deal. Miami is in for a treat.”
Bang on a Can is a pioneer in mixing avant-garde, popular and ethnic styles with academic and classical music, an approach that has spread as the classical music world has sought to widen its inspiration and audiences.
Thomson, who began working with the band in 2000 and has been playing with the All Stars for the past three years, explains the qualities at the heart of the group’s style.
“You can’t play with Bang on Can All-Stars without having a really good sense of rhythm, of the drive of music, of rock music, and understanding of music from a lot of different cultures from around the world. At the same time, you have to have a certain level of training and competence on your instrument,” he says.
However, he adds, rock music really is the base.
“It’s not going to sound like a string quartet,” he says. “We are not playing it like you would play Brahms and Mozart, or something like that, even though all of us have played that music as well. We are playing it with that propulsion and that forward movement. Always dealing with the beat is a very important component to what we are doing.”
The Miami concert will be modeled, in part, on Bang on a Can’s signature marathon concerts, which can last upwards of 24 hours and feature hundreds of musicians. Light Box resident company the Nu Deco Ensemble and perennial Miami favorites the Spam Allstars will join in, adding a dose of Miami flavor to Bang on a Can’s signature style.
“If the spirit moves them,” Boone hopes, the evening will culminate with “a giant jam session featuring over 30 musicians on one stage.”
A combination of friendly collaboration and urgent energy are intrinsic to their appeal and mission, says Thomson.
“Bang on a Can is very careful to try to be open, accessible, friendly, fun, and at the same time we are really serious about the work we do. The goal is to have people who maybe have never heard any of this music before but are intrigued by the concept or the name, just come and try it out.”
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If you go
What: Bang on a Can All-Stars featuring the Nu Deco Ensemble and the Spam Allstars.
Where: The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 404 N.W. 26 St., Miami
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Cost: $25 ($15 students and seniors; $50 VIP).
Information: 305-576-4350 or www.miamilightproject.com.