Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Cartridge Music

Tonight, I enjoyed a few number pieces, plus the first of what will be a three-part set of Cheap Imitations.  I also am enjoying a cranberry sauce soda while I listen, the most palatable of a “holiday soda” gift pack I purchased today.  I’ve also included my comments on Cartridge Music from last night.

This is a curious work for a chorus (another choral work, for the person who asked about them!) with the letters of “Oregon” sung.  Now as I listen, I can’t really make out the lettering, but I certainly enjoy it a lot.  The music (along with my speaker set up) completely surrounds me and I feel like I am engulfed in a thick mist of voices.  I think a lot of Cage’s vocal works really highlight the beauty of the unornamented voice, and here I get to listen to several such voices singing simultaneously in single, solid tones. The result is very attractive, especially when the voices continue for so long that they seem less to be voices and more like ambient noise that you miss when it vanishes.  

Cheap Imitation for Piano
Cage arranged the third movement of Satie’s Socrate for two pianos, but copyright problems prevented its completion.  So in 1970 Cage took a curious route, and used chance operations to transform the original Satie work, transposing notes and modifying the dynamics completely from the original.  

This was supposed to be a violin rendition of the work, but it turns out that eMusic lied to me, and I wasted three of my downloads on another piano version when I already had them.  That’s very annoying.  I did not read sufficiently carefully; the review they quote from allmusic is way off, but the fact that his is Cage himself performing should have made it clear it was not for violin!

Anyway, this work is totally boring.  In fact, I am breaking one of my rules right now, in that I am writing the discussion while I listen to the third part, which has another interminable 15 minute remaining.  The music is one long melodic line that goes nowhere.  Each note seems played so alike that any variation in dynamics is subtle enough that I may as well be listening to an old MIDI file.

There are certain exceptions—sudden shocking parts where Cage sounds as if he is hitting a sour note, but which presumably are just modifications of the original piece.  These seem to be emphasized by the playing, as do some portions of the final part.  But overall, I’m just twiddling my thumbs, waiting for it to end...

A Flower
This is a 1950 vocal work that includes piano lid tapping.  There is no text, but in my performance Joan LaBarbara sings long, slow tones, while the tapping on the piano tends to be fast and rhythmic.  

She scared me suddenly when she basically began quacking like a duck at one point.  So up until there, it seemed like a fairly conventional Cage vocal work—solid tones, no vibrato, highlighting as I said above, the unadorned voice.  For this work Cage added other animalistic noises, such as gargling.  Apparently the dance was about a flower, so Cage decided the music should seem more animal-like.  To be honest, after some bewilderment, I got a good laugh out of the music.  It reminds me of the horse-neighing part of Stockhausen’s Stimmug that never fails to leave me howling.  

As a side note, it’s too bad I didn’t do a Stockhausenblog, because a) the word is fun to say, and b) maybe he’d write to me and tell me I have no comprehension of his music ;-)  

Cartridge Music
Sometimes with works like the Variations series, Cartridge Music, Branches and others, I feel like Cage wrote them so as to be more interesting for the performers than for the listeners, and whatever listening enjoyment might occur really needs to be accompanied by watching the performers in action, or at least a detailed description of that’s going on...I’ll discuss this more below.  

Anyway, this is a work for various objects placed into phonograph cartridges and amplified, as well as the sound of furniture with contact microphones.  The material provided for the music consists of various shapes and transparencies such that every performances is different.  Indeed, the number of performers depends on the number of cartridges available.

In listening to it, much like Variations, I found it difficult to pay a lot of attention.  Most of the sounds were indeed interesting, but all sounded mostly like scrapes and scratches that varied by pitch.  I understand the concept of the work: small sounds that would otherwise be totally inaudible are being amplified.  But for me, unless I know what is making the sound, the sound itself is a bit less exciting.  On the other hand, I can imagine how I would feel being one putting objects into the cartridges and becoming excited as I wonder, “What sort of sound will this make?”  

But as for this recording, I particularly enjoyed certain short, loud sounds, as well as the “twang” sounds I associate with springs.  Some other noises were curious, like chains dragging and something shattering.  But most were just creaks and scrapes.  I would have loved either a video of the performance, or a text description of some of the parts that the performers found most interesting to play.

i love cheap imitation. i am eagerly awaiting stephen drury's recording of it for full ensemble / orchestra. it hasnt been recorded in that version yet.

re: stockhausen. whatever you do, dont write an email to stockhausen verlag, like i did, complaining about how expensive their cds are. haha. i got a pretty amazing response in return.

i think branches and cartridge music are excellent to listen to. i dont think i need the visual element there to enjoy the sounds. im ok with not knowing how the sounds were made or where they are coming from too.
Yes, there's been no recording of the orchestral version, but keep your eye out for it on the blog nonetheless...

Yes, the price seems to be somwhere between $25 and $30 per disc, and since I complain about normal CD prices constantly, that's way out of my budget (especially with that $18 handling charge). Most of my Stochausen came from music libraries, but even they seem loathe to pay for it...

I don't know why I enjoy Music for Piano but not Cartridge Music so much, despite the fact that they are both collections of unrelated sounds.

I was wondering if you could compare 'Cartridge Music' - I assume you have the version on the Mode label - with 'Variations II'?

I find David Tudor's version of 'Variations II' (from 'New Electronic Music From The Leaders Of The Avant-Garde') pretty interesting - if not tuneful.

Thanks for any reply.

I was wondering if you could compare 'Cartridge Music' - I assume you have the version on the Mode label - with 'Variations II'?

I find David Tudor's version of 'Variations II' (from 'New Electronic Music From The Leaders Of The Avant-Garde') pretty interesting - if not tuneful.

Thanks for any reply.
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