Monday, October 17, 2005


The City Wears a Slouch Hat

The City Wears a Slouch Hat
This 1942 work consists of percussion music to accompany the CBS radio play of the same title by Kenneth Patchen.  The play concerns an unnamed fellow (whom I shall call Guy), who travels a city and encounters a number of characters, and listens in on patches of conversation.  At one point he is held up, but the gunman is shocked to discover a photo of himself in Guy’s wallet.  Guy seems to have assorted psychic powers, at one point answering a phone in a faraway apartment to tell the caller that the person they are trying to reach is dead along with his family, and making the bullets disappear from another gunman’s weapon.  Two scenes stick out in my mind.  At one point, he meets a man by the river, and they have a truly surreal discussion.  The man has never been on an airplane but wants to see things from above.  He asks Guy if he had ever been to a particular city near a lake near the border, but Guy has not, although he knows the workers in a creamery near to the city.  In the lengthy final scene, Guy waxes philosophical, calling for the need for more love in the world, and noting that he is going to “enter your house, hands outstretched” and that there is no need to be afraid.  

Cage had originally intended to use electronic means to produce the music, but the studio would have insufficient time to put it all together.  Instead, he wrote a percussion accompaniment that is largely atmospheric in nature.  There are plenty of additional sound effects based on the sounds of the city, which is an interesting preview of Cages’ later embrace of noise and appreciation of such sounds as music.  I say this because all of the sound effects fit in so well with the percussion accompaniment that the two are all but indistinguishable.  

I had to turn up the volume quite loud to make up for Guy’s very quiet voice, which was unfortunate in a few places.  There is one particular point where Guy sees a cloud trying to talk to him on a mountain, and the intensity of the accompanying thundersheets knocked me right off of my couch.  The work is highly recommended, but perhaps less so for the music than for the surreal story.  Musically, the highlights in my mind are the part where Guy is at the river, as well as the previously mentioned section with the speaking cloud.

A Dip in the Lake: Ten Quicksteps, Sixty-two Waltzes and Fifty-six Marches for Chicago and Vicinity
A work from 1978, A Dip in the Lake was a huge disappointment for me.  In theory, it is a work that involves collecting sound recordings from chance-determined locations in Chicago, though transcriptions can be made by selecting similar locations in another city.  At one point, I thought it would be entertaining to attempt to create a version of this work for my town of Blacksburg.  Sadly, the score was completely non-instructive, and it wasn’t clear what, if anything at all, should be done with the sounds.  In the recording I have, the work is somehow performed by Francis-Marie Utti on the cello (and a bunch of whistles), but unfortunately I have no idea what she based her interpretation on.  In short, then, the score makes no sense, and consequently the recording makes no sense.  My inquiries on the Silence mailing list did not result in any helpful replies, so I presume the work is basically a waste of time.  
[Note: I am aware of two other attempted performances of the piece, but I have not heard the results.  If someone can point me to them, I’ll replace this commentary.]

so 1942... that puts it after his various Constructions. Would you say The City Wears a Slouch Hat is similar in style? I would imagine that the City would be somewhat less intense than the constructions, simply because the constructions didn't have to make way for any plot or dialogue.
They are pretty similar, although since it's a lot longer, Slouch hat uses a wider variety of instrumentation. There's also a strong tie to the particular scenes--tin cans predominate when it's raining, and thundersheets when, well, it's thundering. At the river scene, there's the sound of chimes and foghorn noises. In the last scene, the music becomes intensely dramatic as well, something I don't think the Constructions have much of.
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there is an amazing version of 'A Dip in the Lake' created by rob pleshar. its not commercially released but you can download the mp3s from ubuweb.

the frances marie uitti version takes alot of free license i think and doesnt follow the score the way it should be.
there is an earlier piece called '49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs'. and apparently in that score there are directions on how to make your own version. 'a dip in the lake' came after this piece.
i lived in chicago for awhile and started working on my own version of 'a dip in the lake' it was great to go to different locations around the city and record or listen. i think its an excellent way to explore the city and listen to the different sounds in different parts of the city.

also i think mode is preparing a DVD of '49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs'. and i think in one of the cage videos, he performs part of this piece. maybe its the american composer video.

this is a great project you got going here.
im curious as to how listening to all of this cage has affected the way you hear the world around you and other music, etc.....

That MP3 link is outstanding, I'll add those to my queue for listening!

I may purchase a copy of the '...Boroughs' score, then, and see if I can derive the means to make such a recording for my own town. It would be fun to wander around here, and it might be quieter different since this place is quite small.

Listening to Cage has not really changed my more normal musical tastes, but I am a bit more aware of sounds around me. There are certain sounds that I find pleasing such as the sound of billiard balls clacking together, or the sound of fizzing Coke in a plastic cup with large pieces of ice (yes, that speicific).

I also think listening to Cage has made my ears such that vibrato in singing is extremely annoying.

I'll have to think more on the question. Cage created in a wide array of styles, and I have to tune myself in to each style in order to appreciate it.
The line and the timing of "I know exactly what you mean" never fails to crack me up.
Is there a link to this recording somewhere? I own the new version on Cage's "Lost Works" CD, but I really want the original! Please and Thanks!
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