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.

Sell those "extra" CDs at and use that money to buy more Cage CDs! If you end up reviewing into late February or early March I'll mail you a complimentary copy of Two3 so you can be the first to review it ... OK? Keep up the great work and Happy New Ear!
happy new ear, cagefans!
keep up the good work zac!

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