On first hearing this album, I had no idea what it was, but I knew I loved it.
Contemporary music label Cantaloupe Music always produce challenging and interesting releases, and this album from 2004 is no exception. Pairing New York-based composers and musicians with Burmese percussionist Kyaw Kyaw Naing, the disc is a fascinating collaboration between very different, but strikingly similar, musical minds.
Naing’s instrument, the pat waing, is the standout sonic feature. This traditional instrument, comprising 21 different tuned drums, is at the heart of all the music on this disc. Rhythmically virtuosic, the sounds are new, striking, but always a joy to hear.
At the album’s core is a focus on rhythmic complexity, alongside (relative) harmonic and melodic simplicity. There is a common thread here; this musical aesthetic chimes with both Niang’s Burmese roots, and the ‘minimalist’ philosophy of pioneers like Glass, Reich and Riley, to whom Bang on a Can owe so much. The label released Glass: Music in 5ths/Two Pages, at the same time as this record.
In the age of the rock band, the art-rock band, the electronic string quartet, the percussion ensemble, and a whole range of exciting chamber ensembles, Bang on a Can Meets Kyaw Kyaw Naing is a great listen, and a great piece of modern chamber music.