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.  

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