Friday, December 30, 2005


Second Construction

Whew, it’s been awhile!  Sorry for the absence.  It’s interesting: when I’m in Alabama and it’s just my parents, I have way too much free time, but when my brothers arrive it completely vanishes.  My last one went back to Atlanta today, but being a lowly student I’m going to hang out here another week or so.  The last few bits of music I have heard via headphones, so this has been a slightly different listening experience from the other reviews.  

The Christmas good news is that my brothers and aunt gave me a pile of Cage CD’s.  The bad news is that I already had nearly all of them.  My brother gave me the “Wonderful Widows” disc (with 59 ½” and Ryoanji as well) and “John Cage at Summerstage,” while my aunt also bought “Wonderful Widow” along with the CDs “Five3” and “The Sky’s the Limit.”  So of all those, I got one disc I did not already have, and I now have three copies of that “Wonderful Widows” disc.  I wonder if Amazon does returns.  

Here’s a random question for anyone working in radio: Why do the announcers on the classical stations seem to speak so much closer to the mic than on other stations?  I always know when they’re about to speak because I can hear the spit sloshing in their mouths.  Yuck!  

Second Construction
This is a work for percussion quartet.  There’s also a prepared piano involved; it was written in 1940.

The Second Construction is a very windy work, in my opinion.  I mean that it isn’t as harsh or forceful during most of the music as the others in the Constructions series.  It makes quite a bit of use of a triangle (I think) and chimes, too, so it just feels lighter than the other two. At most points, there are not a large number of instruments playing simultaneously, and there’s some really incredible gong sounds; they sound warped and distorted as they play.  I would add that most of the sounds are metallic, too.  The rhythm is clear but, as I said, not forceful.  I don’t think this is exciting as the other two, and I find it a good one for relaxation.  

I wonder if the distorted gong is one of the water gongs or not.

Radio Music
This is a six-minute work for radio, much like Imaginary Landscape No. 4.  It’s from 1956. Apparently it’s in four parts, but they cannot be distinguished.  It seems to me that Cage uses more frequencies than I have available on my own radio (all the way down to 55 KHz), and that might explain some of the seriously bizarre static I hear as I listen to the recording.  It sounds an awful lot like the kinds of strange bleating and buzzing you get when you put your handheld radio near a computer or a hard disk or other such device.  

I think it’s more full of sound than the Landscape is, but of course that would largely depend on the number of radios used (this seems to be only one radio, a maximum of 8 are allowed).

I really don’t understand why performances of the radio works manage to sound the way they do, almost exclusively full of speech and classical or jazz music plus static.  If I were to perform it here, the recording would be utterly buried in the latest pop and hip hop music, with a liberal dosage of country thrown in.  Almost no speech besides advertising would be heard.    I don’t think I heard a single pop song in this entire performance.  To me that smacks worryingly of intention, the same way my Cikada Duo recording of Landscape No. 4 ends very suspiciously with the finale of a symphony.  

27’10.554 for a Percussionist
This is what I call a dubious recording.  The work itself was also from 1956, and features percussion instruments in several groups including electronics (mostly radios).  I say the recording is dubious because it’s three chunks from three different Max Neuhaus performances from 1964 and 1965, all stapled together.  I guess the idea is to show the way in which performances can vary.  

In the first, you mostly hear metallic slam noises and bumps and so on, plus a radio (from which I could enjoy a few vintage 60’s pop fragments).  The second performance seems to use some kind of tape loop for the electronics, and stretching, scratched strings for the other elements.  The score calls for metal, wood and skin based percussion, but I don’t hear much besides metallic sounds.  The third has the same sort of tape-sounding music, plus more scraping and bonking.  Both it and the second also have a little feedback, which may or may not be intentional.  I still don’t hear much besides the metallic sounds and electronics, though.  

Like most of the completely-indeterminate music, I don’t find this one very thrilling, largely because I know every performance is totally different.  

A Chant With Claps
Here’s an obscure one, featuring clapping and a longwinded text about the changes Greek music incurred as the civilization which used it (and the Romans who adopted it) changed.  It was apparently a gift to Henry Cowell sometime in the 1940’s.  It sounds for all the world like someone reading a paragraph from a textbook; the text is written in that verbose and tiring style I associate with the humanities, anyway.  Still, I like listening to it just to hear the dramatic “Greek civil-i-zaaaaaay-TION!” at the very end.

Saturday, December 24, 2005



The holidays are nearly upon us.  I nonetheless have some free time, so I’ll try to squeeze reviews in...even if the rest of you just might have better things to do over the next day or two than read the CageBlog ;-)

In 1958, Cage composed this indeterminate work for voice, which consists of wavy lines indicating different types of singing, squares indicating non-singing vocal sounds, and text in assorted languages.  The performance is indeterminate, although there are 20 pages (each with 30 seconds), so most versions I have heard of are in the 10 minute or under range.  Now, there’s a wide array of ways to perform this, since the singing styles are determined by the performer.  I like the version I am hearing now (from the Music for Eight disc), because almost all the vocal sounds are pretty nice to hear.  I heard a different version a few years ago which went a little overboard with the whiny, screeching, or grating vocals that simply got on my nerves.  Here, the singer only goes into “old hag” voice a few times!

What you mostly hear are fragmented chunks of singing, which may or may not be from real songs (I do not know the languages), interspersed with periods of silences and the occasional nonmusical vocal noise.  These are almost always pops or clicks of various kinds, since there’s not that many options (others are throat noises, laughs, gasps, etc.).  I don’t expect that the experience of the music would vary a whole lot between performances, since the text and wavy lines are constant, even if the order or specific style may not be.  Interestingly, all the versions I have are done by women.

Music for Piano 4-19
Here’s another set of chance piano music from 1953, involving single tones produced via key presses, string plucks, and so forth with the piano.  Now, I understand that Cage says these can be performed as separate pieces or in any combination.  But I wonder why they were released as one block, as 4-19.  Was that just how he happened to publish them?  I’m also not clear as to whether Cage means they can be played in combination as in sequence, or as in simultaneously, with other pieces from others in the Music for Piano series.

I think of this series partially as an exercise in chance composition, but also as something of an extension of the prepared piano, because Cage’s instructions produce a pretty wide variety of different sounds.  Nonetheless, there’s not much to say that I haven’t said before, except that the use of sustains here helps me hear the different sounds.  It also means that silences are present, but not overwhelming.

Water Walk
Here’s a work that’s covered in my John Cage Theater Pieces book.  It’s from 1952, and because it involves a pianist running around performing actions with whistles, radios, cards and so on, it would be fun to see in person.  Each event is notated (many of them involve water, hence the title) and the work is chance-determined, but not indeterminate.  

The recording loses something because a lot of the actions are not easily audible.  

Thursday, December 22, 2005



Well, I am once again back in Alabama.  It was a nice trip, faster than usual since I listened to the Cage/Tudor interview linked to on the Silence list, among other things,  as I drove.  Here is a double whammy of music, about a CD worth in terms of length.  Sort of...As will be seen in the first description. it’s not very nose on your face to determine if the first work is what I thought it was.  

I’m not sure how accurate I am here.  I listened to a recording of James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp and Erik Satie: An Alphabet which I presume is the same thing as the Alphabet from 1982, but it’s ,ore like a text work than a music work.  Then again, Cage does rather blend the two, doesn’t he?  The work consists primarily of “conversations” of a sort between various characters, but generally they come off more like monologues, and very odd ones at that.  To summarize, the piece was a textual description of a stage play, usually involving actors who are dead (some are not) and strange actions that would not actually be presentable.  In general, the people are important to Cage (the title characters, plus an enormous number of names I don’t recognize offhand, probably poets) but not always...At least the people that actually say anything seem important.  This was a live recording, and the audience laughs regularly and I do not get the jokes at all, most of the time.  I did learn that I’ve been pronouncing “Duchamp” wrong every time I have said his name, and I also learned from the introduction (possibly my favorite part, in which Cage describes his experiences with Duchamp, Joyce and Satie) that “nose on your face” is a good substitute for “straightforward.”  

The most memorable section was an extremely longwinded description of points of view based on rays of light striking objects in various dimensions.  I listened to this on the road, though, so I’ll scan over the recording here and add additional detail tomorrow.

I do remember thinking that if someone made a cartoon based off the work, that would be incredible.  

Ah, the classic “happening” from 1969.  Based on the description of the event (multicolored lights, space-image-slide shows, etc.) It seems to fit my mental image of the end of the decade pretty well.  Anyway, I wouldn’t really recommend the LP recording, since it obviously lacks all of the multimedia aspects of the performance.  The music consists of various harpsichord solos combined with taped computer music.  The computer music is a lot of fun to listen to simply by virtue of its age, and there’s lots of interesting timbres, from generic booping to ripping and tearing sounds.  Although the music doesn’t provide any melody, it does add an appropriate background to the shrill, “spiky” sound that I associate with harpsichord music.  They are similar in texture, I think.

I don’t recognize the harpsichord pieces, but they are a bit hard to hear anyway.  I know some are modern, and some are instances of Mozart’s dice-game pieces.  Hey, it just occurred to me that the dice game is not on the 260 CD Mozart collection.  Blasphemy!

Anyway. I wish someone relatively nearby would re-stage this.  I would enjoy hanging out for awhile, although at this point it might seem a bit “retro” and it might be hard to pull it off in a serious way.  Still, any chance to see (and probably make fun of) Trip to the Moon (one of the movies played at the original event) should be taken up.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


A Dip in the Lake

What better way to get through some recordings I am not exactly looking forward to than cleaning up for my trip home while listening? :-D   Tomorrow is a 7 hour drive to Birmingham for the rest of the holidays.  I plan to listen to a few things on the road, probably Alphabet and some unrelated opera.  I hate opera, so the only reasonable thing to do is make myself sit through it for 3 hours or whatever, and maybe I’ll like it.  

I had a pretty infuriating experience trying to record a portion of “Art is a Complaint or Do Something Else” today, as my microphone produced scratchy garbage instead of a reasonable recording.  I reduced the gain to near-zero, same problem.  Eventually it worked perfectly, after I did nothing, and then apparently realizing it needed to be consistent, the scratching reappeared (again, after I did nothing).  Very, very annoying.  

At one point, I came close to damaging my ears with feedback (and I probably REALLY annoyed my neighbors, too).  However, now that I have a feel for the appropriate volume levels, I should be able to do my own performance of One3 without much difficulty!

A Dip in the Lake: Waltzes Nos. 1 – 31
Wow, I actually detected a slight waltz rhythm among some of the recordings.  That was pretty cool, even if I don’t know if it was intentional.  Some of it was recorded at the lakeside, I believe, and others were recorded in direct public view (at a train station, I think).  It’s good to hear some human voices in these recordings, considering Chicago is a big city.  It was odd the last one lacked them!  The human sounds dominated at the beginning, but towards the end it was back to mostly traffic sounds (and a car alarm, interestingly).  A lot of recordings seemed to be just of the ambient breeze.

Freeman Etudes Nos. 17 – 24
When mentioned recordings I was not looking forward to hearing, I’m sure everyone guessed Freeman Etudes!  Fortunately, there’s only another half hour of these things to go.  I think Cage could have just written like 5 of them and my curiosity value would be satisfied...I am really running short on things to say about them.  Various tones, some long, some short, some painful.  The violin sounds depressed, I think.  I just realized that some of the shorter squeals sound a lot like the squeaking of shoes on a basketball court.  For whatever that is worth...

Sunday, December 18, 2005


Cheap Imitation, for violin

Tonight I decided to waste some money, so I bought crab to go with my noodles.  My food-related frugality usually makes me feel OK about spending a little extra for the bucket of crab every month or two.  I ate too much though :-(  

My cold vanished in about 24 hours.  I think this is sufficient evidence to prove that I am basically immune to all disease, so I’m not going to bother with any hygiene practices from now on.  

Ah, spending all day at the apartment, stepping out the door only twice all day, has left me incredibly lethargic.  I have nothing in particular to accomplish right now, though I need to head back to Alabama before Christmas, obviously.  Probably Monday or Tuesday, I guess.  

So another note about the Allmusic “top composers” list.  Why is D. Scarlatti there?  I didn’t think he did much besides compose like 500 keyboard sonatas.

Ooooh...too much crab...

Cheap Imitation, for violin
This is the violin version of the Cagean manipulation of Satie’s Socrate from 1977.  This time, it’s a little more alive.  Cage’s playing in the piano version I heard was completely dead, but the violin with its longer tones makes it more pleasing, and there’s even a little bit of variation in dynamics.  Still, I’m just not getting a lot out of it...I feel like the music is being played, as with Cage’s piano performance, in a style more appropriate for the chance composed works, rather than in a style appropriate for Satie.  The last movement has a whole lot of squeaking from the violin too; I’m not sure if this is intentional or not, because it is not so prominent in the first two movements.  The very end features a repeated low note that to be honest sounds as if it’s coming straight out of a wind instrument.  Neat.

Child of Tree
This is the one-part piece for amplified plant materials, usually including cacti.  A pod rattle is required.  It becomes Branches if there are multiple performances; each performance lasts 8 minutes.  The score, such as it is, was made in 1975.  The sound is subtle, and this recording (the only one) is performed in some kind of highly resonant dam, so there’s plenty of reverberations to really bring out the quiet sounds of amplified cactus pluckings.  There’s also some dripping water-like sounds, whose origin is uncertain...Perhaps those are cactus, too!  

In a lot of ways, this music is like Cartridge Music, especially in that not seeing the sounds being made makes it a little less interesting for me.  However, since I have a pretty clear idea of the parameters (and can identify the pod rattle, at any rate), it’s still a lot of fun.  Most of the sounds are scraping and popping noises, but others include curious clanking and crunching (possibly leaves being torn) and the sound of wooden objects rubbing together.  

When I bought this CD off a fellow on eBay, he said, “I hope you enjoy your cactus music!” I certainly do.  I’ll say a more when I hear the full Branches performance later on (a review all by itself!)

I feel like I have reviewed this before, but maybe not.  It’s for three percussionists, playing woodblocks, tom toms, bamboo sticks, and a drum.   The first part, Allegro, consists mostly of stick tapping.  These sound like woodblocks; the rhythm is not as obvious as in the March movement that follows, which also brings in the bass drum.  I could see a marching band performing this, in fact.  Well, with some serious amplification anyway.  The bamboo sounds seem lighter than those of the woodblocks.  The third movement, Waltz, has a waltz rhythm, but played on percussion it sounds a little strange.  I believe only the woodblocks participate in this part, which is quite brief and not really all that interesting.  

As a side not, the music lasts about three minutes, so it’s strange describes it as a twelve minute work.

Saturday, December 17, 2005



Today, I’m afraid I’m not feeling so hot.  Mostly a cold and some headaches.  Damn that excessive snow!  I should be leaving back for Alabama sometime around Tuesday I guess.  I will bring my computer with me, which will make posting and listening far easier since I won’t be competing with three brothers for access.  

It just drives me batty when I am told a record is “out of stock.”  How about I just send you a CDR with my payment and you burn the tracks for me?  Maybe with an extra buck for the effort involved?   “Out of stock” is so 1990.

That brings to mind another memory: I recall being told by a Peters representative that to get my A Dip in the Lake score, they needed to “ink up the presses” for which they charged me an extra fee, and the whole process took like two months or longer.  It’s another case where I was not bold enough to say, “Hey, when you get done printing, can you just send me a PDF since it’s all text anyway and I don’t want to waste time and money on shipping?”  That was an even sadder case, because the score turned out to be basically useless; I already knew everything it said about producing a performance from the website. :-(

Enough ranting for tonight!  Onwards to Fifty-Eight!

This was written specifically to be performed in a courtyard in Graz, Austria.  It features, as one might expect, various flexible time brackets.  

Friday, December 16, 2005


Etudes Australes

I put together all the remaining files, with a few exceptions, into one gigantic playlist today, and the total time comes to about 32 hours.  Wow.  While I have this free time I should try to take some fairly big bites out of it, much as MacGruff takes large bites out of crime.  The difference between me and MacGruff is that I am not an animated dog in a trenchcoat.  

I don’t know if he’s still around anymore, and it’s a safe bet no one in Europe has any clue what I’m talking about so I’ll just stop now.

So I spent an hour or so digging through the Library of Congress catalog on Cage, and was dispappointed to see that none of the rare items are among their collection (unsurprising, all are foreign).  I’m also considering emailing Claudia Gould, who was the curator of the Music Box Project of which Cage’s Lullaby was a part, to find out where I might uncover a recording.  I question whether this is an ‘actual’ work or not, since it appears to just be an arrangement for music box of Cage’s Extended Lullaby which was a part one of the number pieces.  

Does anyone else see question marks all over the place when loading my Index and other pages?  I have to change my language settings to “Western” instead of “Unicode” to get them to go away (in Firefox) and it’s annoying.  Excel and Word must be inserting unfriendly tags into my uploads.  How sad.  

Etudes Australes, volume 1 and 2
Ah, everyone’s favorite: sparse piano music based on an astronomical atlas!  Except this isn’t sparse at all; it’s actually full of notes.  Thus it’s a more pleasing listening experience, and not as likely to bring sleep.  The music was placyed quickly on my recording, and I would repeat a comment Cage once said about Winter Music: It has become melodic.  One thing in oarticular that was unusual with this music, as far as Cage’s various etudes are concerned, is that each one was fairly distinctive, and if I heard it a few more times I could easily distinguish one of them from the otherers.  This is surprising in basically random collections of tones and chords.  I found a few of them especially pleasing: The speedy number 2 and 7, the sort of explosive number 5.   Number 8  seemed especially melodic and 13 reminded me of thunder.  Very nice!

Thursday, December 15, 2005



Alright, check out the new review list; I reorganized it totally alphabetically, made a few corrections (adding a few extra versions of a few pieces that are around) and most importantly, I have added the recordings used for each review.  I’ve used a wider variety than I thought I did, in fact!  

I’ve decided to add some ratings, as a helpful tool for new listeners to Cage to answer the question, “what should I hear first?”  I’ve basically broken it down into stuff anyone who like music should hear, stuff anyone interested specifically in 20th century music should hear, stuff that probably only Cage aficionados would like, and then...the other stuff, like certain early works featuring three dopey songs for voice and piano....

I think if a Complete Cage box set were ever released, it should include readings of all of his lectures and poetry.  I would go so far as to say this might be a key project as far as recordings of Cage’s work go in any context.  I’d especially enjoy hearing a complete reading of all of the Indeterminacy-like stories floating around Silence.  

Speaking of Cage’s poetry, here are some works completely unrelated to it.

Hymnkus has a bunch of parts for various winds, voice, percussion, accordion, piano, violin and cello.  Fourteen parts in total; it was written in 1986.  The work involves repeated verses of seventeen events.  My recording has the saxophones, percussion, accordion, and piano.  From this the style of the work shines through pretty well.  Generally speaking, the music is like a number piece in texture, but with much shorter events overall.  I’m afraid I can’t directly hear the repetitions as I listen for them, but maybe someone with more careful ears could.

The music comes from Etcetera and as a result sounds rather similar.  But maybe that’s just the beginning of one of the parts and they decided to start later than the others, or maybe I just missed it previously.  I believe all the notes are played within a small range on all the instruments, which is readily apparent since the piano seems to be playing the same basic tones over and over again even if I can’t hear a pattern in the ordering really.

Basically I’m not really enthusiastic about the music, although it’s kind of neat that everyone is basically playing the same notes.  It doesn’t evoke any strong feelings for me.  Maybe I’d enjoy a different performance more, with more instruments.  

This is a microtonal violin arrangement of Solo 85 from Song Books and is based on a Satie which is probably not microtonal itself.  The music comes to us from 1978.  The music is primarily a fairly high pitched whine, in several parts.  It’s frankly a pretty malevolent sound, and I do not feel very comfortable listening to it.  I like it, still, because it’s so haunting and strange.  I’d like to hear this on a late night road trip I think, past abandoned farmhouses and towering dark trees...I t sounds like regular violin music, just off somehow.  I’m not sure what a haikai is though.

Haikai for flute and zoomoozophone
This is sixteen microtonal duets.  The zoomoozophone is a wacky aluminum-tube based instrument.  Needless to say, this one isn’t recorded too often!  It sounds oriental, but I’m the first to admit I have no idea what I mean by that.  The flute produces clean wind tones, very soft and comforting, like leaves fluttering by.  I hear the zoomoozophone ‘ding’ occasionally, but surprisingly, not all that often.  It produces a quick, light sound, which seems almost as airy as the flute.  

It’s a light work, nice and atmospheric.  It should surely be recorded more often.  Maybe there aren’t many zoomoozophone players out there, or maybe it’s just too annoying to type on liner notes...?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005



Well, I’m back.  Another semester is completed and now I’ve got a week or so to kill before heading home for some holidays.  I will remember to bring the correct music this time!  Soon I’ll be done with all academia; if I ever become outrageously rich, I’m going to hire a composers to create new music for every product launch or life event.  It would just be an excuse to pay someone to compose, under the theory that great music shows up when people compose, regardless of why they are doing it.

I borrowed two books from the library, John Cage’s Theater Pieces and Conversations with Cage.  Both are highly enjoyable, although Conversations could really, really use an index.  I tend to just open it and read wherever I happen to be.  I didn’t realize I got to keep them for such a crazy amount of time, upwards of 3 months.  Good grief.

I finished up the two missing reviews below (Four4 and the stuff from yesterday) and will be ready to get back in full gear.  Tonight’s selections are below and I shall fill them out tomorrow.  But just to whet your appetite...

I’m thinking about putting the performer and album for my reviews in the index, since I’ve had some (exactly one) request for that information.  I honestly just don’t keep track of names very well, which is why I hardly ever mention them.  

Music Walk
This is an indeterminate quasi-theatrical work from 1958 in which the performer plays the piano and makes other sounds according to the score he or she creates.  In my performance I believe I hear that duck whistle that’s also used in Water Music.  Otherwise, it’s mostly a collection of thumps and bumps.  Oh, and a very nice siren.  I think the work is theatrical but less so than Water Music where the performer plays cards and makes other actions that I just can’t see.  This one is more focused on the sound, and thus is significantly more listenable.  

Nocturne for Violin and Piano
In this Nocturne Cage tries to make the violin and piano become one, apparently, but without much success in my mind.  It’s from 1947. To my mind it seems a little like a proto-Dream or In a Landscape.  The music is very sweet, soft and meandering.  The title is appropriate, since the piano mostly plays soft chords and brief, quiet glissandos.  Although the piano’s notes are often spaced far apart, the violin holds them together and gives this work a sense of quiescence.

Two6 is f violin and piano.  No other details seem readily available though, except it was quite a late work, April 1992.  The tones on the piano seem to uniformly move up the keyboard when they are played close together.  My suspicion that there’s many groups of upward-moving tones in the score.   The violin plays mostly sustained tones, but sometimes they shift into a different tone, but never in a very sudden manner.  It’s quiet at peaceful, overall.  I’d say it’s quite a bit like One that I heard yesterday, as in, like a view of the night sky, but with a chill wind blowing.  I might say this because that is precisely what I experienced about 10 minutes ago when I took the trash out...

Variations I
This is the cello version by Uitti, which is good for an example of a Variations performed by a single person.  The score is a set of dots and lines superimposed.  How to interpret this?  That’s pretty much up to the performer.  Uitti provides some intriguing noises with her cello, my favorite being a loud,  “boing” noise when she plucks a string.  But it doesn’t sound like a normal string pluck because it goes on for longer.  Some of the other sounds are rattling or tapping on the body, and various methods of playing the instrument, probably with different tools than the bow (the scraping seems to come in several flavors).  I guess the Variations are a lot like Cartridge Music, but even more free since you are not restricted to the sounds of objects with contact microphones.  

Fontana Mix
This is the Max Neuhaus “Feed” version, although Cage originally created a version for magnetic tape.  This score is also highly indeterminate, using miscellaneous transparencies with points and a grid.  It seems like there’s exactly one photo of this score, and it shows up in almost every Cage book I read!  There’s also some curvy lines.  It’s a lot like Variations but there seems to generally be a preference for performing this work with some kind of electronics.
I have both a tape version and this Feed version, and I think I prefer this one.  The other, well, sounds pretty much like a longer Williams Mix but with a different gamut of sounds.  This version is actually rather scary, with some very low rumbling tones that sneak in.  The music seems to be glowing.  It’s produced presumably from various tone generators, though most of them seem to be in the high rather than the low range.  The particular file that I have is in very bad shape, and I’m not sure where it came from.  Full of nasty blips...unless those are intended!  Sometimes you don’t know with this sort of thing ;-)  I’ve heard this mentioned before as a very great version of the music, and I agree.  I really like it a lot; it’s a big deluge of shifting, sometimes frightening tones.  


Sunday, December 11, 2005


Mysterious Adventure

I’m grumpy this evening due to my annoyances as I attempt to watch “Boudu Saved From Drowning” (DVD plays it but with no sound; computer won’t play it at all...)  So I’ll hear some Cage to calm me down before bedtime.  

Sorry for the sparse updates, it’s exam time I’m afraid...

Thirty Pieces for String Quartet
A coincidence of solos for strings; the performers should be far away from the audience.  We get three kinds of music and time brackets, one of their first uses way back in 1983.  The work, to be totally blunt, reminds me of other orchestral works, since even in those the strings often, but not always, dominate everything else.  This music is nowhere near as frantic as the Freeman Etudes, but it’s not exactly charming either, the same way that Atlas Eclipticalis was.  It also doesn’t bring to mind other number pieces, because the majority of the tones seem to be fairly brief, and they don’t seem “swept in” as in most number pieces.

I believe this is a live recording based on the wide array of coughs.  The way I think of this works is as maybe a halfway point between some of the more forceful or “random sounding” music like Atlast Eclipticalis and the Freeman Etudes and Etudes Borealis and so on, moving more towards the later number pieces.  The lack of detail in the recording is a little disappointing because it’s harder to hear the specifics of the individual sounds, though I do note some unusual percussive playing of the instrument frame and perhaps some strumming noises.  Nothing is making the instruments seem to scream in pain as in the Freeman Etudes though!

More or less where it began, as far as number pieces are concerned—piano chords differing in loudness, written in 1987.  Now, I wonder if this is my imagination or what, but the earlier I go with the number pieces, the less “number piece like” they sound.  This one seems rather forceful; some tones don’t seem to be allowed to fade out.  I do like the performance of chords though.  I’m not exactly sure how Cage chose which chords to perform, because none of them seem totally bizarre.  I presume they are chance-determined within some range.  it’s very silent and meditative, and the only flaw might be that the speedy exit of the sound doesn’t really give me the chance to experience it fully.  

I’ve said other number pieces bring to mind the sky or the moon or whatnot; perhaps this one brings to mind some of that but also a sky with lots of shooting stars, that zip through my field of hearing before I really have a chance to experience them, and then they’re gone.  This would frankly be a nice piece of music to hear when I am going to sleep, especially through earplugs: nothing too distracting, and sufficiently random-sounding to get my mind in the proper state for sleep.

Mysterious Adventure
And now for something completely different...Prepared piano dance music in five sections; apparently it is “trivial” but not “simple.” I’m not sure what that means!  It’s lower in pitch than other prepared piano pieces, it seems to me, and the rhythms seem ritualistic to me, and I think there’s some great sounds, very sharp and hard sounds, and a beat I can actually tap along to for parts of the piece.  I would say the opposite of, that it’s pretty simple but not trivial, if for no other reason than it goes on a lot longer.  I especially like the second section with the quiet rhythm repeated over and over with a bell sound between each repetition.  
Unfortunately, the second part is the only part that uses a slightly different set of sounds.  The other four seem largely similar: fragments of a rather similar rhythm played repeatedly.  The only exception is a shift into different material in the fifth part, almost like someone broke the machine performing the music!  Anyway, it ends with something close to a fade out, something I hear fairly regularly with Cage’s percussion music.  Did anyone use fade-outs before Cage?

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Europera 5

Tonight, an opera.  I’ll preface things by saying that I really hate opera: That awful, nauseating, and unnatural yelping/singing; the tedious melodramatic plots; the haughty arrogance of many of its fans....Blech.  

Now, on that positive note, here we go!

Europera 5
This opera is a sort of scaled-down, traveling version of the other Europeras.  It features the same basic stuff, but in smaller scale:  two voices, a piano playing opera transcriptions, some randomized lighting, a television with a clock, and Victrola records of some seriously old operas.  For details you can consult the otherwise quite negative (and, in my opinion, nonsensical) essay on Cage’s Europeras here:
The author takes the well-worn road of dismissing Cage’s music as irrelevant, and focusing on the ideas, which to him are just not interesting (apparently, the Europeras are merely rehashes of 4’33”).  I posted the link to the Silence list, though no one said much about it (then again, no one says much in general on its name an unintended meaning!).  I think this was another of a large number of works where Cage used existing musical sources to create his own compositions, from the mix-and-match of Apartment House 1776 (which has the most in common with the Europeras, I think) to the subtractions of Some of “The Harmony of Maine” and even the various versions of Cheap Imitation.  Then there’s the collages of records in Landscape 5 and elsewhere  Such repurposing is a key theme Cage returned to again and again.  

Europera 5, like Four4, is sparse and even lonely.  The more you reflect on what you’re hearing, especially the Victrola performances (everyone involved in creating those recordings is almost certainly dead), the more of a lonely and almost frightening listening experience it becomes.  The variety of volume levels and the shifting positions of the singers mean that the performance is barely audible sometimes, and at others, very loud.  One ironic fact is that, being that I don’t know opera well and couldn’t understand the text even if I did, the piano often seems to accompany the singing pretty well, if unintentionally.  There’s also supposed to be the Truckera tape, a collage of opera music so densely layered as to resemble a truck passing by, but I didn’t hear very much from it; it doesn’t block out the sound as it does in some of the other Europeras.  

I cannot find the source where I read this, but I swear I once saw a requirement that the performance of Europera 5 should include a dusty old table lamp.  I was tempted to buy one to have on as I listened, because it would add to the atmosphere of the experience, and to the loneliness.  I’ll also clarify what I said earlier about how I feel about this and how I left about Four4: the loneliness here is primarily distance in time, a separation from others who are now dead.  In Four4, I felt a separation from essentially everything, a bleak and overpowering emptiness.  

I think Cage’s goal was to evoke the entire concept of European opera, especially as it seems to us (to me, anyway) in the 21st century, a distant, incomprehensible relic of the past.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005



Today I spent an hour or so skimming through most of John Cage’s Theater Pieces which gave a useful rundown of some of the more obscure later works, and then I read some extracts of Conversing with Cage.  I have a perverse fear of checking out books from this library, so consequently I didn’t keep them.  

I look forward to a new Cage biography, because I didn’t like The Roaring Silence very much.  Although it was pleasant to read, I frankly didn’t get much out of it since I had already read so much of Cage’s own writing (I was especially annoyed by the lengthy excerpts from them).  The last several sections, covering the final decades of Cage’s life, reads like an itinerary and are painfully dull.  The book’s casual dismissal of Cage’s homosexuality as “unimportant” also strikes me as insane.  I agree that it’s pretty much irrelevant to the music, but it was a biography, not a musical analysis book.  Good gravy.  
On a random note, I really wish blogspot would accept Word’s superscripts.

Oh boy, this is not one I have been very eager to hear.  This was designed to fit on one CD, which had a length of 72 minutes at the time.  It features very sparse music for unspecified percussion instruments using the flexible time brackets Cage was fond of around 1991.  I am hearing the ‘original’ Amadinda Percussion Group version, for whom it was written.  My lack of eagerness is a consequence of long-ness and sparse-ness., but we’ll see how I react after I listen...

The music is some of the most lonely I have ever heard.  The sounds consist of low, slow growing rumblings, the occasional gong, and sometimes other miscellaneous percussive noises.  And wind chimes, it seems, very soft and ghostly.  It’s the gong and drum that seem to be coming in from a great distance away, something like the sound of a train horn blowing in the far off distance or a dog howling...really, really lonely.  I think this is great atmospheric music if you are depressed (or if you want to be!).  

The most readily apparent sound, though, is that of your environment because Four4 has some extremely long silences contained in it.  I think the constant listening for the sounds from my speakers actually leads me to concentrate more fully on all the other sounds around me, maybe even more than I would when hearing 4’33” performed..

But it’s also suitable, I think, for meditation.  The distance you feel as you listen sort of gets sucked into you, and as a consequence you feel as if you remind is far away; I always seem to say the number pieces are trancelike, but each one seems to be in a different way.  

Perhaps the best part of this piece is that you go on listening long after it’s over, thinking there will eventually be another sound to hear...


Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Music for Carillon No. 5

So, my plan to review music before bed last night was caught off-guard by my having a pretty terrible flat tire on the interstate after coming home from a date.  So here I am tonight, doing this instead of the other work (writing a paper, specifically) that I really probably ought to be doing...

The impact of being a Cage fan on one’s romantic life is probably worth noting, but it will be saved for the 4’33” review.  

I would like to ask if anyone knows how many players are on the Quartets I-VIII recording by Hat Art, since I do not have the liner notes handy and I may need them soon...  

I think Cage was dead wrong about recordings.  I’ve been to numerous concerts this semester at Tech, and whether it is a Berio sequenza or a Mozart sonata, I have never gotten anything from the live performance that I did not get from a recording. Cage expressed his disdain for recordings all over the place.  Two extreme examples: In the film I have nothing to say and I am saying it, he gets upset, frankly whiny, when someone suggests that recordings “can sometimes be useful.” In Silence he comments, referring to Satie recordings, “it would be an act of charity, even to oneself, to smash them whenever they are discovered.”   By contrast, I think there’s little point in performing most music live anymore.  I guess I am a Gouldinist or something.

On a lighter note, I got some glares from the gals behind me at the concert I went to this weekend for tapping my fingers (silently!) to the rhythm of all the music (some boring romantic stuff and a Mozart sonata).  I think it would have required less energy to just look away if it bothered them so much...

Music for Amplified Toy Pianos
This is one of those crazy transparency-based indeterminate performances.  From 1960, the music features speakers distributed around and actions performed on a toy piano with contact microphones attached.  The music, consisting of tweaks, blips and scrapes brings to mind Cartridge Music, except that it is obvious these sounds are from a toy piano.  The sound is sparse, as I had expected, but it actually keeps my interest a little better than Cartridge Music since I know more or less where the sounds are coming from.  The only exception is the one that sounds an awful lot like a zipper...

One7 / One13
This 1990 music is (according to, as always) the first part of Four6 performed as a solo, “for any way of producing sounds.”  In this particular case, the twelve sounds required for One7 are chosen such that the result sounds like One13, an incomplete number piece for cello (from available information, that piece conveniently seems to have been intended to last close to the same amount of time as One7).  Consequently, this piece of music features performances of single drawn out pitches (some continuing for a remarkably long time).  Or, I might say “pitch” because they all seem to be the same, performed at slightly varying amplitudes.  The notes that I scrawled during my listening session read, “Sounds like a freaking bee!”  

Of course, being that this is a real instrument, there’s lots of variation even within the same pitch.  The sheer length, as with other number pieces, allows you to focus on the component sounds that make up the sound I describe as a cello.  Specifically, slight, vague warbling of the pitch is clear, and the scraping of bow on string is also apparent as a very light rubbing sound.  As I mentioned, the sound is subject to sudden increases in volume, and at a few points I think I hear more than one tone played simultaneously, but this might be an artifact of my stereo or my ears.  

Overall I’m reminded of La Monte Young’s Drift Studies which featured a single long tone where the listener could explore the phase shifts and such as they occurred.  I remember hearing an excerpt of it off the Ohm electronic music compilation when I was in college, on the way back from dinner with my girlfriend at the time.  That was the only time she got truly angry about my selection of driving music...

Music for Carillon No. 5
Thanks to Greg for a nice live recording of this.  This is one of the most absolutely insane scores there is: ten photos of wooden boards having engraved musical staves; the knots and grain shifts of the wood to be interpreted into music during a performance.  It was written in 1967.  The performance is of the ten boards separated by silences.  I’m not really sure about how well it’s done because they all follow the same pattern—light playing, then increase volume, then end.  It would be surprising to me if ALL the boards had such a similar grain structure.  There is some variation though; I might describe the third as “curious” and the sixth has more single tones than the others.  The ninth and tenth both seem to follow a “stairstep” pattern.  It would be fun to see this score in its entirety.    

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Atlas Eclipticalis

I see no early Cage fans have given any shouts to let themselves be heard.  I suppose that’s not entirely surprising ;-)

Cage invariably makes me hungry.  But it might be that being awake at 4 AM is what makes me hungry.  My typical Cage listening experience is to sit on the couch, with a pot of noodles boiling in soup in the background.  I have a stereo setup with two nice front speakers and two crappy rear speakers; also, the ambient noise from my loud computer is going constantly (all music is stored on the PC, which channels through my receiver).  I will wait for the noodles to boil down to the point that they are slightly burnt and all the water from the soup is gone, and then I will let them sit to cool and I’ll eat, usually about halfway through the particular 45 minute block of works.  

Typically, I take some notes, unless I have heard the pieces several times before (tonight, for example).  I then write some skeleton reviews (date, brief description) to fill in later, especially if it happens to be very late.  I usually try NOT to do this while I listen, since it’s distracting, but some nights (like, again, tonight) I feel a little pressed for time.

Atlas Eclipticalis
In order to write about this 1961 work, I was going to break down and learn orchestra notation.  Fortunately, I don’t need to bother because it’s much clearer than usual.  Basically, the work is a collection of events for various instruments; I think the version I am listening to now uses all 86.  A star chart, from which the work gets its title, was used to compose the piece, with star brightness indicating the amplitude of notes.  The dedication is a who’s-who of people important to Cage at the time.  

This recording is a little hard to listen to due to the huge range of dynamics; I have my music player do some gain to make all my music have approximately uniform volume, but with Atlas the result ends up clipping on some of the really loud instruments if I don’t limit it.  I blame the optional amplification, which seems to have been done in this performance, especially on the percussion and the timpani (which is totally shocking when it arrives!).  

Mine is the Wergo recording.  Basically, what I hear is a low rumbling mix of strings and other instruments in the background, with occasional impositions of various instruments over the din.  I think the music is, in fact, a good analog for the universe from which it gets its title and notation: You have the omnipresent background radiation left over by the big bang, with singular points of light slicing out at you from assorted locations, often (when viewed from earth) seeming to twinkle.  Additionally, the brightness is sometimes amplified by viewing them through a telescope.  

The only questions I have about my ‘view’ of the piece is whether a) Cage would approve (the point of chance operations was, after all, to remove intention)?  and b) do I just think this because I know what the title is?   The answer to a) I think might actually be “no” because even if I view the whole music as evocative of the night sky, then I will listen to it as I watch the night sky, with the possibility of focusing on sounds as they are.  To use an analogy, even though Cage might suggest the sky as a whole, he doesn’t draw constellations.  As for the second question, well, even if I made up my interpretation based on the title, I am no worse off than I am with practically every tone poem ever written.

As an aside—There is much Greek mythology to explain how gods and animals and so forth ended up in the night sky.  Is there any mythology to explain as to why they look like a bunch of dots now?

This is a 1945 piano extract from Four Walls, which I have already heard.  I suppose I could probably figure out just which part this is...Hmm, it appears to be from part III of the dance.  I’m not sure if there are other extracts or not.  It doesn’t include the main theme.  Anyway, the music is mostly a faced spaced collection of rhythms that might sound good on a prepared piano as well!  There are pauses between each that most probably represent text in the dramatic dance that accompanied the music but which are not a part of it..


224 Reviews

That’s how many there will be.  Well, at least with my present selection of recordings (and ones I anticipate acquiring shortly).  Check out the updated review index: it includes everything done so far, with links, as well as everything you will see in the future.  I’m following absolutely no pattern in my reviews, so requests are certainly welcome!

Where are we now?  Somewhere about halfway, but a lot of the works left are long, so not exactly...It’s going to be another month or two.  Thanks to the new recordings I’ve been sent, I think we’ll be pushing Febuary at this point...

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Three Easy Pieces for Piano

So yesterday I wandered off to the local music store.  I’ve always been amazed that anyone buys those SACD versions of Sony “Living Stereo” recordings from the mid 50’s.  Even the back of the case says, “these are stereo recordings.”  In my mind, the only reason I’d ever buy an SACD is to get extra channels of audio (for example, four channels would be great for Dance/4 Orchestras, and if you could get all eight tapes of Williams Mix on a separate speaker?  Ahhh...).  But I can’t see the rationale in buying dusty old stereo recordings on SACD.  I guess so maybe your dog can hear an extra few kHz of tape hiss?  

But what took the cake yesterday was a 1940’s era mono recording on SACD.  Wha...?  

I may have said this on here before, but I’ll say it again—I’m pretty sure Sony made about 10-15 recordings back in 1955, and they’ve been selling the same ones ever since, over and over again.

Now, as I promised, today (technically last night, but I am posting today) is “old stuff” day.  But I didn’t have quite enough old stuff to fill up 45 minutes, so I will make it “old a bunch of Freeman Etudes” because I need to get through all of those soon.  

Three Easy Pieces for Piano
These pieces from 1933 are, well, pretty easy to play, and easy on the ears.  The first is titled Round, and features a sweet and swift little ear-pleasing melody.  The second, called Duo, feels more austere and serious, but I’m not clear why it is a “duo.”  The final movement, the Infinite Canon, is not especially memorable and quite brief (although the name suggests it could be repeated over and over again, in which case it would be not especially memorable, but very long).  In this rendition, the whole track is 57 seconds, with about 15 inexplicable seconds of silence at the end.  

Hmm, apparently the Round is in harmonic A minor, and I am impressed that I actually sort of remember what that means.  

Three Songs for Voice and Piano
Of the music I listened to last night, this was the worst.  Again, 1933.  The piano doesn’t do much but provide a pretty sparse accompaniment to the voice, which sings in “Twenty Years After” basically a few permutations of the title.  I’m not clear what we’re twenty years after.  

The second song, “It Is As It Was” is memorable because it starts with “If it was to be a s’prise.”  I presume this is short for surprise.  The rest of the song is just, again, permutations of the title, such as “it is to be what it was and it was so it was as it was as it is is as is as it is and as it is and as it is and as it was.”  Good gracious!  

The third song has the wacky title of “At East and Ingredients.”  This time we don’t even get permutations, it’s just plain repetitions of the title for about a minute.  

The tone of voice doesn’t seem to vary an enormous amount through any of the songs, but it does take on an operatic air, and consequently the songs are hilarious: our vocalist sings such ridiculous lyrics with such great passion!  You can tell he’s truly moved by being at East and Ingredients, and is deeply concerned about the fact that it was as it is is as is as...Anyway, this stuff is for completists only I think.  Text is by Getrude Stein, for what that’s worth.

Freeman Etudes Nos. 9-16
I’ll reiterate my previous comment that I bet these etudes (all from 1977) are way more fun for the performer to produce than for me to listen to.  I was entertained by the wildly high pitches the violin is capable of, such as a long whistling in number twelve.  The rapid shifting between extreme notes is also intriguing at times.  Still, the music does get a little tiring on my ears after half an hour.  I’d never make it through a performance of them all.  I went into a half asleep trance-like state this time, and was sort of dreaming about Cage.  I specifically noted in my head that the Etudes sound like furniture being moved across a gymnasium floor.  Then I wondered, could this be furniture music?  Then I decided, no, Furniture Music Etc. was scored for piano...

Sonata for Two Voices
This is a bit of atonal music in three movements from 1933, featuring repetitions of 25 tones with each instrument having a two octave range.  Often there is a degree of competition between the two voices, each trying to steal at the listener’s attention, with the possible exception of the second movement.  Cage succeeds in making the music appealing, even without the repetitions of melodies my brain is so desperate for.  The instruments are unspecified but appear to be too woodwinds in my recording.

Prelude for Six Instruments in A Minor
The disc I got this from called it a piano sextet, but it’s obviously not, and instead features flute, bassoon, trumpet, violin, cello and piano.   Apparently it’s the same as the second of the 1946 Two Pieces, which in turn contains stuff from The Seasons.  I rather enjoy this performance.  The strings, piano and brass seem to be subordinate to the flute throughout most of the work; they often seem almost random in comparison to the longing melody of the flute.  There is quite a bit of silence in the piece, in the beginning; the ending is rather anticlimactic.  It just sort of dies.  I wonder if it’s perhaps incomplete?

Two Pieces for Piano 1935 (revision)
Another bit of atonal music with the creative titles of “Slowly” and “Quite Fast.”  This is the 1974 revision of the 1935 work.  It evidently features repetitions of small fragments of melody, using a twelve tone row.  The first piece is pretty distinctive, and the last half or so features one of the hands playing a rhythmic repetition of two notes, which I didn’t expect would be allowed given the tone row constraints of the piece.  The second piece is, obviously, played very quickly.  I feel each hand is playing a quick competing and repeating melodic line, with the right having more notes.  There is no pause in the music; it continually climbs up, then falls down, and so on, and eventually just seems to fade out.  When I hear the original version, I’ll see if I can pinpoint what the revisions were!

Friday, December 02, 2005



I have updated the review index to include links to all posts from October!  I hope it’s useful.  

Here’s a nice long recording to make up for a missing day or two.  The CageMap has been abandoned, in case anyone hadn’t noticed, at least until I can figure out how to get Excel to make me a less time-consuming and less arbitrary version!  I have a plan in mind, but I’ll have to teach myself a bit more Excel to get it working.  I’m not sure what I’ll do tonight yet; I’m thinking a collection of the very earliest of early works would be good, even though no one is very fond of them I don’t think.  If anyone’s a fan of them post a comment!  

Question for the day: If 0’00” is considered music, and its performance instructions require that the obligation fufilled not be playing music, can it ever be performed?

Thanks to Lothar for a recording of this work.  It takes up an entire CD and features one loud organ.  Nothing rattles my bones quite like organ music turned up at high volume here, and the ambience and strange, groaning chords of this music made it all the more terrifying.  The pieces are played with a variety of registers, some so low they make my living room rattle.  The higher sounds tend to be less chilling and more mysterious.  The piece is played so slowly, filling up a good 80 minutes, that it has become a number piece, I’d say.  What I think is the best part is the nature of this organ—as pieces are played and the sound fades slightly, the pitch changes, so there are often chords with this lovely, groaning effect in some of their component notes that resemble a voice crying out, then dropping in pitch as it disappears...Rather frightening, actually.

An unusual aspect of this recording is that the different pieces are recorded from different performances of the whole work at different parts of the day.  The intend was to give a “flavor” of what the 600-something year performance on the organ in Halberstadt will sound like, because you hear a wide array of background noises—automobiles, sometimes and best of all the sound of wind, trees, rain and thunder in one of the recordings.  This is great ambient music, especially given the cold weather here; it somehow seems appropriate for winter.  Heh, and the lowest of the low notes remind me I need to buy some better speakers!

This performance of the work includes all the parts, with one repetition of part V at the end, as Cage specified (a little different than the piano version, where he calls for a replacement in the middle of the work).  I’m not sure what my thoughts on the Halberstadt performance are; it seems perhaps a little too much intended to be shocking (“How can you make a 600 year concert!?”) and might be impractical.  But, perhaps in a few hundred years I will be proven wrong...    

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