Thursday, November 03, 2005


Imaginary Landscape No. 1

Tonight, some electronics, some prepared piano, and some rain.  Sometimes it is entertaining to imagine Cage sitting on the other side of the couch listening with me.  He seemed to say various things about recordings during his life, so I’m not sure what his thoughts on the premise of this experiment would be, or if he would have been offended by my falling asleep during Etcetera (see below)...

Our Spring Will Come
A 1943 work for prepared piano, Our Spring Will Come follows a typical pattern for works of this type: relatively short segments of alternating rhythmic passages.  Many of the passages include melodies from unprepared piano keys, or sometimes single tones.  The work is very upbeat and the rhythms are uniformly fast. There are a few points where a single rhythm, with four sounds, is played for a fair amount a time, with no other notes.  Also, Cage punctuates things in the latter half of the work with some very abrupt silencing of the piano.  The piano preparations generally produce a rattling, metallic sound.  The different types of rhythm are recognizable when they repeat.

Improvisations IV (Fielding Sixties)
This is an online recording of a 1982 work that I obtained, which features speed-modified recordings of a classical violin piece.  They all seem to be the same piece, but overlapping each other and played either fast, resulting in a screeching, banshee sound, or else played slow with a warbled, mournful, groaning sound.  The effect is interesting, and I think the choice of violin music highlights it nicely.  The imagery in my mind is, for some reason, strands of DNA being bent and twisted around one another.  I’d say it’s haunting, but maybe unsettling is a better word.  

In this work from 1973, performers move between three stations; as each station reaches is maximum occupancy, the play.  As this occurs, percussionists play boxes in a light manner that resembles the rain or rustling leaves.  Of course, I hadn’t read this description before I listened to the piece, and I was debating whether the light tapping sound was bubbling stew or raindrops.  There were also taped bird sounds involved, and sometimes what sounded like dog or something else non-avian.  The instruments, strings, wind and piano, play slightly rhythmic and sometimes lyrical bursts of tones.  

The music was relaxing to listen to.  In fact, maybe it was too relaxing.  In a way it felt like a number piece on a larger scale, with different instruments playing for awhile but then fading away in a non-abrupt manner; sometimes, all the instruments disappeared leaving just the percussive sounds.  It was during an extended passage of this almost-silence in the last five minutes or so that I went into either a trance or dozed off; the piece is so soft and comforting that I really didn’t notice it had ended until I heard the buzzing of the record players in the next work!  I look forward to hearing the orchestral version.

Imaginary Landscape No. 1
While I was driving to a bookstore in the summer of 2003, I heard a soft drink ad on the radio which paid tribute to, “the guy who first realized a turntable could be an instrument.”  I felt the need to yell out, “1939, dude!”  Of course, I was wrong—apparently some Dadaists did it in the 20’s, and I think Resphigi used recorded birdsong in The Pines of Rome even before that (as a side note, apparently there were riots; but that’s OK, classical music audiences rioted over everything back then.  Maybe their monocles were in too tight).  Nevertheless, Imaginary Landscape No. 1 for variable-frequency turntables, piano and cymbal stands out in my mind as a key work in early electronic music, even if today some of the turntable bleating reminds me of a truck backing up.
The music consists of frequency test recordings at various speeds, mixed with short piano passages of only a few notes, and cymbal crashes.  Between these sections, the piano strings are strummed.  The loudest part of the whole performance is certainly the strumming of the piano strings, which like in Fourteen produce a powerful rumbling sound.  Each strumming is progressively louder each time, building an ominous tension.  The frequency tones provide a backdrop to the whole thing; sometimes their speed is varied slowly and you hear the pitch shift, and other times it is too rapid to notice anything but a stairstep increase.  The work follows a pretty clear pattern, and there aren’t any surprises.

Personally, I like to listen to this Landscape at very high volumes such that the piano strings make my walls shake, perhaps to the annoyance of my neighbors...

The imaginary landscape is excellent. The huge swath of notes from the bottom of the piano's range is unsettling. Overtones then sit over the notes like a froth. The piercing sound of the turntable emphasizes a chosen overtone; therefore, the turntable is harshly echoing what the piano already indirectly "played."

The interval that the turntable repeats grabs attention to itself. It's an octave+M2 as far as I can tell, although the high pitch of the second note of the interval makes it hard to vocalize and confirm.

I was intially miffed by once again running into some Bacchanale-style melodic boredom in terms of the specifc piano strings that are being plucked in the middle of the range. The notes were both obsessively repetitive and totally out of place with regard to the general feel of the piece. Yet Cage uses such motifs ubiquitously! Perhaps an analogy is Dali's use of ants in his paintings?

In any case, the extent to which one enjoys a piece of music often depends on the frame of mind in which you listen to it. So I tried to contemplate a context for that irritating, mid-ranged piano plucking. So I imagined a retarded child, leaning over the piano, plucking the same notes over and over again. With that, the depersonalizing horror of this imaginary landscape was complete.
which recording of etcetera did you listen to?

(i know its probably too late, but im always curious as to which version/recording of a piece you listen to, sometimes its clear when you mention the performer or if there is only one recording for a particular piece).

by the way, have you listened to cage's 'branches' yet?
Apparently, Cage composed the work for a production of Cocteau's Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel. Have you seen any references that confirm this?
Cage also did compose some incidental music for the play seperately. Although both works premeired at the same performance, I don't think they are both associated with the play.

I read the play a few weeks ago without "realizing" what I was reading. It featured strange things coming out of a camera and some talking record players. I didn't find it very enthralling, but it was better than "The Infernal Machine."
Hi, I'm writting my bachelor about the history of turntablism. So I found your cageblog and the info that Ottorino Respighi used turntables years before. Do you have any references about it? Or do you know in which way he used the turntable as an instrument?
Shawney from Berlin / Germany
Respighi did use the turntable in "Pines of Rome" in that he plays some birdsong, but I would barely refer to this as :using a turntable as an instrument." I'm not sure who the first person to manually manipulate turntable in a live performance was.
Hi Everyone. ..

Just found this when looking for a recording of Cage's Landscape no 1.

Resphigi's Pini di Roma was first performed in 1924. I've got a recording of it by the Philadelphia Orchestra thats out of this world.

First use of recorded sound or turntables as an instrument was 1916, Dziga Vertov.

The Dadaist you speak of was Stefan Wople also spelled Volpe somestimes. I believe it was 1919 when he performed with 12 record players playing beethoven simultaneously. At leasts thats according to the popular account. At the very least he had a lot of discs spinning at the same time and it was an art festival, clear precedent.

WWII destroyed the art community in Europe. During this time Cage met emigrees and began to develop ideas, he was clearly aware of his forerunners and gave them their due.

Still Cage's work represents a significant appreciation of recorded sound as an instrument in itself. This sort of media awareness was rare at the time and a great part of Cage's genius.

wanna know more?

great site!

thanks for spreading cage's love!

i've no doubt he was there on the couch listening with you! john cage has a tremendously powerful spirit, thanks for sharing your experience

seth d brown


evolution of sound
The speed transformation was 33 1/3 rpm to 78 rpm hence the pitch change of an octave and 271 cents (i.e. an octave plus a minor third minus 29 percent of a semitone).
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