Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (Ensemble), City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus
Orchestrated by Marty Ehrlich with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and members of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus
Produced by David Lang and Ken Thomson
Recorded live Sunday, May 3, 1998 by Paul Sparrow at Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham, UK
24-bit mastering by Charles Harbutt at Sony Studios, NY, US on November 17, 2000
The Passing Measures is published by Red Poppy, Ltd (ASCAP)
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 Part'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.
All Music Guide
David Lang on The Passing Measures
"I think one of the reasons our commercial culture likes all music to be fast and snappy is because in fast music it is much harder to recognize the passing of time. You listen to the tunes, to the catchy phrases, but you are not allowed to feel just how time slips away. Fast music is stirring, optimistic - that is why we are bombarded all day by active, energetic music that tries to make us buy things or do things or think things. Slow music, on the other hand, is good for contemplation but is terrible for business, so you don't get much of it in your daily life. More and more I have become convinced that one of the noblest things you can do in a piece of "serious" music is to allow for an experience that can't happen in your everyday life. The Passing Measures is that kind of experience.
My piece is about the struggle to create beauty. A single very consonant chord falls slowly over the course of forty minutes. That is the piece. Every aspect of the piece is on display, however - magnified, examined, amplified, prolonged. The soloist's notes are impossibly long, requiring frequent drop-outs for breath and for rest. The players are all instructed to play as quietly as possible, and then are amplified at high volume, in order to make their restraint an issue of the piece. Four percussionists scrape pieces of junk metal from start to finish, as if to accompany the consonance of the chords with sounds of dirt and decay.