Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Four Walls

Well, it’s pretty obvious I should not do my listening so late at night, because then I become too sleepy to write the reviews ;-)  I will see what I can write about last night’s before I fade out.  Tonight I spent an hour hearing Four Walls, which is quite interesting even without the textual and dance component.  

Oh, and an additional note: expect fragmented updating next week.  I am going home to Alabama for the duration of the Thanksgiving holiday, and though I will certainly hear my 45 minutes each day, the unreliable Internet connection at our house may make updates a bit slower.  My birthday will also be celebrated there, and hopefully it will include the unwrapping of some more Cage music!

And in my sleepy haze, I just had the following thought:  A big advantage of doing a CageBlog instead of a BachBlog is that there are fewer umlauts to type.  

Four Walls
This is a major dance work featuring multiple characters (a dysfunctional family) and a storyline with related music written in 1944.   The introduction to the first act reminded me a whole lot of the beginning to Nixon in China, but slower.  I realize this is fairly silly, but they both strike a slowly-developing, nervous tone.  Hmm, not necessarily nervous, but sort of sad...I guess the best way to describe it is “worried.”  This mood persists, more or less, throughout all of the music.  I’m not going to go scene by scene, but rather mention some overall thoughts, and then a few points that caught my attention.

Four Walls was meant for a dramatic play, and there are a large number of pauses in the middle of the music that would normally be filled with spoken text and movements on stage.  In listening to a recording, these are gone, and replaced with silence, which makes it sort of an interesting forward-reference to a certain infamous Cage work...The music is structured very specifically in space-equals-time notation, so that you can’t very well “skip” those sections without going contrary to the score (the fifth part from act one features an especially long silence).  Aside from the silences, there are some particularly long spaces filled with only ‘punctuating’ notes, usually repeated over and over.  Without the text or movement between them, they take on the feeling of a heartbeat or other rhythmic process.  As I listened, I divided up the music into essentially two types: music associated with actions, and music that might be considered the theme of the dance (based heavily on the worried music mentioned first).  The action music is usually strongly rhythmic, with frequent pauses, and sometimes includes a dialogue effect, with one stomping sound contrasted against a higher, softer sound, almost a male-female comparison.  It makes me pretty curious what else would have been going on as the music was played!  I get the sense that the various musical types may be associated with different characters.

In act one, there’s a particularly dramatic sequence in part three, and its ending feature a neat use of an interesting echo-like effect of a repeated melody.  The best example of the dialogue technique shows up in part four.  One of the most forceful sections of music is in part one of act two.  The work ends on a much darker variation of the original theme.  Finally, there’s the part for voice in part seven, singing a poem involving throat gurgling (!?), which was written by Merce Cunningham.  It’s sung in a high voice, relatively slowly.  I’m not sure how it relates to the overall drama.  

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