Involuntary Songs with Bill Bragin

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Declared “one of the most influential figures in the New York live-music business” by The New York Times, Bill Bragin has had his hands in everything from Central Park SummerStage to Lincoln Center's Out of Doors festival to the annual globalFEST world music celebration. Formerly the director of the NYC's iconic Joe's Pub, Bragin is currently the director of public programming at Lincoln Center, is the music advisor for the TED Conferences and performs as part of the world-music tinged DJ collective GlobeSonic. He also finds time to maintain an active following on Twitter under @activecultures.

Here's what Bragin has to say about his edition of this week's Mixtapes, with a playlist that stretches from contemporary classical to world music, no-wave and beyond:

Involuntary Songs by Bill Bragin

I’ve been quoted as saying that “overstuffing is part of my aesthetic.” My maximalist approach to curating is one that celebrates abundance as a means to make unexpected connections. For me: more is usually more. 

For this mixtape, I had to fight my urge to be comprehensive or to try to make some kind of definitive statement about “post-whatever–whatever classical-ish music in the 21st century.” As is often my way, the selections were mostly intuitive, and organically determined.  And is also often my way, it ended up being nearly twice as long as intended. With some gentle but firm prodding from Q2’s producers, I had to make some radical edits along the way.

Most of the artists included here are people I have a personal connection with –they are composers and musicians I’ve worked with at some point in my career, from my beginnings presenting shows in college to artists I’ll work with this summer at Lincoln Center. 

The one thing I was sure about was where to start. I vividly remember recording Scott Johnson’s John Somebody from John Schaefer’s New Sounds while I was in high school, cutting the program listing from the newspaper to tape to the side of the cassette.  It changed the way I thought about music.

From that album, Johnson’s “Involuntary Songs” led me down several paths as I assembled this setlist. Its emphasis on the emotional impact of the breath suggested the post-modernized indigenous traditions in the music of Inuit singer Tanya Tagaq, the otherworldly processed vocals of Juana Molina’s interpretation of Congotronics, Sxip Shirey’s elegiac yet carnivalesque bells and whistles, and Wang Li’s overtone-rich jaw harp that uses extended acoustic techniques to make music you’d swear was electronic. The shifting patterns in Juana Molina and the Kasai All-Stars led me to Michael Gordon’s layered polyrhythms.

If this were an old-fashioned cassette mix tape, the subtly virtuosic interplay of Sissoko & Segal would mark a transition point and probably open Side B. Their kora and cello duet moves the mix more directly into what people would recognize as a “classical” sound palette, but with a rhythmic drive that could only be of our time.

The post-rock, post-minimalist (post-everything? to use your term) piano of Thomas Bartlett (Doveman, Nico Muhly, The National) undergirding the dramatic crescendos of Irish supergroup The Gloaming; Germany’s Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble’s shifting chamber music arrangements of minimal techno; ETHEL’s driving performance of composer/dj Raz Mesinai’s “La Citadelle”; and new music pioneers Kronos Quartet and Finnish avant-folk accordionist Kimmo Pojnonen filtered thru Samuli Kosimen’s samples –- all these tracks play with repetition, tension and release like an expert dj leading the dance floor to ecstasy.

Repetition, tension, release and ecstasy are also the hallmark of this excerpt of Rhys Chatham’s epic for 200 electric guitars, 16 electric basses and one high-hat, recorded live at Lincoln Center Out of Doors in 2009. Like Scott Johnson, Chatham finds new ways to reconcile rock guitar and extended symphonic statements, and the extended climaxes make a cathartic bookend to the opening laughter.

Besides those pieces cut due to time limits, I had to leave out a number of personally significant pieces – like John Zorn’s cartoon and Morricone-inspired “Tre Nel 3000” and Asphalt Orchestra’s brass band re-imagining of Swedish metal band Meshuggah’s “Electric Red.” But they are just as important to my thinking about contemporary music as anything included below, so consider these name-checks an inducement to seek them out. Or maybe they’ll end up on an angst-filled follow-up. One that might not be quite so overstuffed.


Scott Johnson – Involuntary Songs Part 1 (from John Somebody)
Tanya Tagaq – Force (from "Auk-Blood")
Juana Molina vs. Kasai All Stars - Hoy supe que viajas (from Congotronics: Tradi-Mods vs. Rockers)
Michael Gordon – Timber Part 1 (from Timber, performed by Slagwerk Den Haag)
Sxip Shirey – Pandora (from Sombule)
Wang Li – Dans La Riziere (from Guimbarde)
Ballake Sissoko & Vincent Segal - "Ma-Ma" FC (from Chamber Music)
The Gloaming - Óró, Sé do Bheatha ‘Bhaile 
Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble – Bop (from Mr. Machine)
Raz Mesinai – The Citadel (from Heavy, performed by Ethel)
Kimmo Pohjonen / Samuli Kosminen – Uniko 2: Plasma (from Uniko, performed by Kronos Quartet)
Rhys Chatham – Excerpt from A Crimson Grail – Pt. 3 (from A Crimson Grail