Friday, October 28, 2005


Credo in Us

For those who are curious, only a mere 140 recodrings remain!

Tonight I was going to go to a concert by the Virginia Tech choir, but sadly it was a ticketed event, and there were no tickets being sold at the door.  Since Tech’s music department calendar does not list ticketing information, it’s always sort of a toss up as to whether I will actually be able to attend the events I attempt to go to.  Fortunately, the recitals by students are always free, even if there is some cost in being stared at because I am the only person there who is not a professor, a family member of the performer, or a music student required to attend.  On the plus side, I hear music I wouldn’t otherwise, often by composers who aren’t even dead yet!  Even when they are, I doubt I’d hear them otherwise. Two weeks ago, a clarinet player performed some Berio which would have no doubt made a traditional audience huff, collectively adjust their monocles, and walk out in annoyance for being presented with something they haven’t heard 28,000 times previously.

Yes, my perception of classical music audiences is based entirely on caricatures I’ve seen on The Three Stooges.  

Anyway, no more cynical ranting!  There’s Cage to discuss.  I skipped listening yesterday; you’ll find out my rationale tomorrow.  

But what about the noise of crumpling paper which he used to do in order to paint the series of “Papiers froisses” or tearing up paper to male “Papiers dechires?”  Arp was stimulated by water (sea, lake, and flowing water like rivers), forests
In 1985, Cage composed this work with and gave it an outrageously long title, which was based on a letter from the Arp Foundation; the work being a celebration of Jean Arp.  As usual for the later work, there is a strong sense of the natural world here.  There are ten parts for various resonant instruments.  In my recording, I hear various wooden and metal percussive sounds.  This is mixed with the sounds of crumpling paper and the various noises produced by water.  The effect is very peaceful and meditative.  

The percussion instruments are apparently following a beat, but I could not detect what it is by measuring the time between different sounds.  Yet, I felt like there was a guiding rhythm even if there is no specific one.  The most prominent instruments produced this feeling, whereas some of the others—blown jugs or bottles, a rolling ball—only creep in at unexpected times.  The jugs, in fact, came in halfway through with a very low pitch that gave everything else a sense of dread.  The paper and water noises come once in awhile, and do not seem rhythmic to me.  Instead, it feels like the other instruments give these sounds a context in which to exist.  The water noises are a little more common and include boiling sounds, pouring sounds and the like.

As a side note, I heard various noises as this piece played on my computer.  I heard a knocking noise that may have been someone knocking on a door upstairs, or might have been part of the music.  Similarly, there was a moderately loud scraping noise that might indicate a damaged audio file.  Or, it too might be part of the music.  I’m not sure!  I guess this music is sort of like 4’33” in this respect; I hear (possibly) external sounds and they become part of the performance.

Music for Carillon No. 1
For some reason, no one likes to record the Music for Carillon series.  This is off of the live recording of Cage’s 25th Anniversary Concert from 1958, and to be honest I don’t think it was a very good recording.  The carillon’s kind of muddy, and there’s a fair amount of tape hiss, too.  

Anyway, the music seems to feature various chunks of sound.  You hear a few bells, then a big wash of them, and then a few individuals.  This pattern continues throughout, and in this recording it just doesn’t seem very interesting, even though I like the sound of a carillon.  There’s an ancient LP featuring another recording of this work and three of the others in the series (but not No. 4 for some reason).  If anyone has unearthed it I’d love to have a copy.   Or, if anyone has access to a carillon, these are obvious choices for improved recordings!

Credo in Us
I think of this work as the masterpiece of Cage’s percussion music phase.  It was written in 1942, for percussionists using cans, buzzers, and gongs, as well as a radio and a piano.  It opens with the radio, and throughout most of the work, the radio is hidden by the percussions, like it is locked inside a cage (no pun intended).  The piano, on the other hand, has a few solos where it plays some simple rhythmic melodies, one of which is distinctly jazzy in sound, which is surprising since as far as I know Cage did not like jazz.  The whole performance seems divided up into pieces of intense percussion or piano playing, separated sometimes by silence or by quiet, but insistent rhythms.  Later, the radio becomes freed and it is played alone, surrounded before and after by piano rather than being buried in percussion.  

The jazz melody, towards its end, is engulfed by a low, intense piano rhythm that is very foreboding, and which to me suggests the war going on at the same time Credo was completed.  Unlike some of the other items Cage write around the time, there’s no peace here; the music is completely active and exciting.  My favorite aspect is certainly the radio. In spite of the fact that it could potentially sound like anything, I hear it as “the radio” rather than as whatever the radio happens to be playing (static, speech, other music).  It’s interesting that something so indeterminate fits in so well to the rest of the music.  As percussion music goes, I like this one even more than Antheil’s monstrous Ballet mécanique.  


Non sequitur--I think Cage would disapprove of iPods. On the subway platform today, I heard someone playing a tune from Bach's cantata, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," on a xylophone. They were at a distance so I could not identify the performer, and the tune mixed well with the rest of the ambient noise. Soon enough, the xylophone notes were drowned by the roar of an oncoming train. Meanwhile, three different people standing around me were plugged into their iPods, oblivious to a pretty neat environmental sound event.
I see people with iPods around all the time around campus, pretty much oblivious to their surroundings. I suppose somthing is lost when people remove the opportunity to experience the world outside the nest created by their headphones.
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