Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Some of "The Harmony of Maine"

Today there was not an especially clear highlight, but that’s OK.  I heard more sparse piano music, some grossly edited organ music and a prepared piano work.  I tried to enjoy the recordings with a cool glass of pumpkin pie soda, being the second-most-palatable flavor of holiday cola.  Unfortunately, I was unable to get much of it down.  I love pumpkin pie, but this tasted far too spicy for me.  Specifically, there seemed to be some nutmeg, which I consider to be one of the most noxious substances known to mankind.  

More unfortunately, it’s all downhill from here.  Tomorrow I will be having a cool glass of carbonated turkey and gravy.  

Music for Piano 69 – 84
This is my second listen in the series of Cage’s sparse chance-created piano music.  It’s very weird to say, but I find this kind of music more enjoyable to hear than the Variations or Cartridge Music even though they are just instances of sounds, bearing no relation to each other, separated in space.  This group, from 1956, can be performed separately (all 16 were separate in this recording) or with others in the same series.  

The performance was very nice, and you could really hear a wide array of timbres among each of the types of piano tones, depending on how hard the key is pressed, for how long, and where it is located on the board.  The variety of sounds that can be achieved from a nonprepared piano is quite impressive in its own right!  The most interesting parts of this recording were the very curious high ringing noises which sounded more like the tapping of a wine glass than piano sounds.  I also got to hear a variety of strumming, plucking, and slapping sounds.

It feels odd to say, but this sort of music becomes more interesting and actually fairly entertaining the more I hear of it.  

An aptly named work for prepared piano that is definitely not over-complex.  It was written in 1942, and is pretty nice to listen to with very consistent rhythm and repetitions.  My favorite rhythm is the one towards the 1:30 mark, which seems pretty mysterious to me, and it leads directly into the most dramatic section with a faster, very repetitive and very simple rolling rhythm.  Most of the music seems pretty laid back, though.  Well, not so much inactive but rather less “dramatic” and more “fun.”  The exceptions are the middle section I already mentioned, and the ending which is pretty tense and forceful.  This work doesn’t stick in my mind as a great prepared piano work, but it’s nice and solid nonetheless.  

Some of “The Harmony of Maine”
This music is a modification of Supply Belcher’s “The Harmony of Maine” from 1794, and thus relates in my mind to Apartment House.  The music is for organ, and Cage did chance modifications of the work so that some notes are deleted and others are changed in length.   Cage’s experiments in this work modification area are always interesting to me; in this one, you can hear both Cage and the original music at the same time.  You can picture how it once sounded without hearing it.   The gaps and distensions make you wistful, so there is a sadness to listening to the music.

Essentially, the experience is one of echoes.  There were two things that crossed my mind as I listened.  The first thought was Fadograph of a Yestern Scene, a phrase from Joyce that is also the title of a Samuel Barber work (which is why I know the phrase).  That came to mind because both Joyce’s nonsense wording and this music evoke a image in my mind: it seems like a faded and distorted reflection of the original music.  

Another, more interesting thing that came to mind was mushrooms.  Cage once commented that the job of mushrooms is to remove old rubbish from the world, through the process of decomposition.  Cage’s modifications of this music definitely strike me as decomposition, because the work is losing notes, becoming torn apart, and if the process continued it would be reduced to simple tones devoid of context: the very materials from which it was created in the first place.  This isn’t a negative thought at all, to me.

Cage was the mushroom, but fortunately he isn’t poisonous.

I listened to a few of the songs you've reviewed on the blog over the past few days. I of course liked the Third Construction. One of my favorite Cage moments is where the horn comes in about 7 minutes in. I think Cartridge Music, on the other hand, was probably more entertaining for Cage to make than it is for me to listen to. With regard to Apartment House 1776, I'm wondering if the use of such gospel tunes as "Every Time I Feel the Spirit" and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" isn't anachronistic. My instinct is that those tunes only came into common usage in the 19th century, but I don't know for sure. Four2 was quite enjoyable. Since it's a number piece, does that mean its notes were chosen randomly? If so, that's pretty incredible because the harmonies developed in an interesting fashion. Are the rhythms in number pieces also random?
i have these recordings if you need them:

Two (1987)
Agora AGO 275.1 / Hyxos (compilation)

Ten (1991)
Hat Art CD 6159 / Ten

Fifty-Eight (1992)
Hat Art CD 6135 / Fifty-Eight

Five3 (1991)
Mode 75 / The Number Pieces 2

Inlets (1977)
Wergo WER 6651-2 / Credo in US...More Works for Percussion (AMAZING!!!!)

Chorals (1978)
Mode 118 / Works for Violin 5

Hi Greg!

I have been sent copies of two of those already, but I would be very interested in Two, Five3, Inlets and Chorals.

I can't seem to find your email address, so I hope you get this message.


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