Cal Performances at Home premieres a new film, Steel Hammer, based on the acclaimed oratorio by Bang on a Can’s co-founder, Pulitzer Prize winner Julia Wolfe. In Steel Hammer, Wolfe creates a musical combination of every version of the traditional American folktale of “John Henry,” weaving together more than 200 versions of the story into an expansive allegory about the human cost of industrialization and the role of perspective in storytelling. The music marries folk cadences with driving rhythms in Wolfe’s densely layered compositional style. The film soundtrack recorded by the Bang on a Can All-Stars and vocal trio features hammered dulcimer, mouth harp, bones, clogs, banjo, and metal percussion.

This performance is part of Cal Performances’ 202021 Illuminations: Fact or Fiction series.

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Pictured: Cal Performances at Home premieres a new film of Julia Wolfe's Steel Hammer featuring Bang on a Can, streaming premiere May 6 at 7pm PDT; Performance will be available to view on demand until August 4, 2021.
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Pictured: Composer Julia Wolfe. Cal Performances at Home premieres a new film of Julia Wolfe's Steel Hammer featuring Bang on a Can, streaming premiere May 6 at 7pm PDT; Performance will be available to view on demand until August 4, 2021.
(credit: Peter Serling)