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Bang on a Can brings Brian Eno's 'Music For Airports' to a US airport for the first time

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The minimalist musician Brian Eno composed “Music for Airports" in 1987, where background music was the center piece. Bang on a Can will perform the piece for the first time in the U.S. at the San Diego International Airport.

The Bang on a Can All Stars is an ensemble dedicated to what’s known as “new music” -- a genre that includes everything from “contemporary classical” to experimental and the avant-garde.

Founded in 1987, the New York-based ensemble is in Southern California for a series of shows that includes Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports,” which they will actually perform inside the San Diego airport. It's the first time the piece will be performed live inside an airport in the U.S.

The Frame's Oscar Garza spoke with with Ashley Bathgate, who plays cello with the group, and David Lang, a Pulitzer-Prize winning composer and one of the ensemble’s co-founders, about the programming goals of the Bang on a Can All-Stars and the first time that they played "Music for Airports" inside an actual airport.

Interview Highlights:

What kinds of musical backgrounds do the members of Bang on a Can All-Stars come from?

Lang: One of the amazing things about the All-Stars is that they all are able to do lots of different kinds of music, and so in the band, you have Ashely, who began her life as a classical musician and is now playing all these other kinds of music. And everyone has that kind of attitude and that kind of outreach.

For example, our guitarist Mark Stewart is also the music director for Paul Simon and he's regularly on tour, or his phone will beep and you'll look at it and it'll be Bruce Springsteen calling. David Cossin, our percussionist, is also a drummer and has played percussion solos on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera.

All of these people have very wide abilities, and the exciting thing for us as an organization is trying to design projects that take advantage of all of their abilities.

Let's talk about Brian Eno's "Music for Airports," which you're performing in Southern California this weekend. He released his recording in 1978, Bang on a Can recorded in 1998, you've performed it in airports abroad but it's never been performed in an actual airport in the US until now. David, have you been thinking about this for the past 17 years?

Lang: Yeah, it's a been a goal of ours to be in every airport on the planet. So obviously starting in America is a really great idea. [laughs] The thing about the project which I think is so beautiful and the reason why Eno chose airports, is because they're a public space we're required to pass through.

We're killing time, we're in transition, but we're not actually some place where we're supposed to notice where we are. And it became a kind of metaphor for him about how music works in our lives — most of the music that we hear is in the background of our lives, very little of it is actually music that we choose for ourselves.

But if you think about it, there's music in the car, music on the radio, music in the elevator, music in the grocery store, and his very powerful idea was, Why can't the music in the background of our lives, that we didn't choose and we don't pay attention to, why can't that music be made with as much care, concern, love, and structure as the music that we choose?

So where in the airport will you be performing? What had to happen logistically to make this happen?

Bathgate: We're going to be in Terminal 2, and I don't know the answer to that question. [laughs] I think we'll find out once we get there?

Lang: I don't think we're going to be sitting on the baggage carousel, but I don't really know much more than Terminal 2.

Bathgate: The last time that we did this, we did have an actual stage and there was an audience area that was blocked off. But then there were lots of passersby who would just stop for a few minutes, maybe some of them would sit, and of course you've got all of this other sound going on — babies crying, people giving announcements, the beeping car that goes through the airport. That's all part of it.

Lang: The first time we did it in an airport was in Stansted Airport, and Brian Eno was there, and that was right after we made the project and premiered it in 1998. And one of the things that was really beautiful was that we were sitting there in the audience, and while I was trying to pay attention, most of the people listening were just people passing through.

So you'd watch them stop, pay attention for a minute, you'd hear the announcements for what plane was landing or what plane was taking off, and I remember thinking, Oh my god, this really works! It really is the most beautiful background music in the world.

The Bang on a Can All-Stars will perform Brian Eno's "Music for Airports" at the San Diego International Airport on Tuesday, October 27.

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