Friday, January 27, 2006


Five Stone Wind

I’m going to be silly and post the newest items before going and writing anything about the ones I posted the other day.  A huge disadvantage of listening one day and writing the next is that I forget what I wanted to say.  So I’ll fill those in as time goes on.  

I also discovered a Cage group on MySpace, which I joined.  One person who posted a message is from Italy, and his presence has gotten my hopes up about getting that Silenzio Perduto recording from the Florence library!

Five Stone Wind
This 1988 work derives its title from its component parts, Five Stone for clay drums and an unspecified realization by David Tudor .  I can’t do much but quote André’s description here because I have little clue what it means: “Tudor used recordings of earth-vibrations, passed through an electronic gate, tuned both as to frequency and duration.”  Takehiso Kosugi played flute and pizzicato sounds on the violin for the Wind part, which starts late in the performance.

This performance comes from the Mode recording, and is full of electronically treated percussive sounds.  There is, like pretty much all of Cage’s late work, a natural feeling to this, almost like raindrops or bubbles popping.  The Five Stone part dominates the sound throughout, and the clay drums are pretty clearly heard.  There are certain electronic noises that resemble the bubbles, while there are other high-pitched chiming noises that remind me of falling water.  I’m not sure where they come from exactly.  The Wind portion is hard to hear, because the flute is played very lightly when it is played.  Unless that is a violin I (very barely) hear, in which case it is playing extended tones instead of pizzicato sounds.

It seems about 2/3 of the sounds, from all the performers, have electronic treatment of some kind, whereas others do not.  The electronics generally make those sounds much louder and more distinctive.  If I turn the volume way up (careful with the popping noises!) I hear some interesting sounds like an electronic hissing or very quiet cricket chirping.  Is this Tudor’s earth vibrations?  

I was not looking forward to this recording, but it’s turned out to actually be one of my favorites of the late works because of the wide variety of sounds, and because it brings to mind some of the earliest percussion works.  Some of the lighter, more ambient noises also remind me of the music from Robert Ashley’s Automatic Writing.

Etcetera 2 / 4 Orchestras
This work is from 1986 and is fairly similar for the original Etcetera from 1973: soloists from each orchestra move to platforms and perform at particular times.  Four conductors beat, but the score calls for some sounds to occur at times off from the beats.  There is also a taped component to the music, featuring sounds of traffic and so on recorded in Cage’s New York apartment.  This makes the music less focused on nature sounds than the original (which had raindrop-like rustles, sounds of birds, and the like), and in my mind makes yet another case for the equivalence of sounds of the environment we think of as “natural” and those we think of as “artificial.”  
The music sounds an awful lot like other Cage works for orchestras or large groups of instruments.  On the plus side, there’s plenty of variety and it’s recorded very well: I can distinctly tell the difference between each group of instruments, unlike such low quality recordings as 103.  I would say it sounds like a lot of quiet creaking, interrupted by occasional simultaneous groans of a large group of instruments.  Usually the brass seem to be loudest.  I don’t hear very much from the piano besides a few brief tones now and then.  Also there’s some percussive sounds that seem more like someone dropping his instrument than anything else!  

The tape that is supposedly playing is worth a discussion on its won, because I don’t hear it.  Or maybe I do—I hear a kind of rushing sound in the background that could either be a tape or it could be air rushing over the microphone.  There are also other sounds that resemble the grunting of a truck moving down the street, but these may actually be instruments that happen to not be amplified.  I heard no evidence of telephones or any other “apartment” activities, though (unless that ringing sound towards the very end is a telephone and not some percussion instrument).

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Sonatas and Interludes

This one is going to take some time to write, but just to bring everyone up to date on my latest listening...Something like three hours worth here, maybe a little less.

Blogger for word is broken at the moment, so it is a bit more annoying to input these than normal.

This is a work for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, tuba, cello, violins (2), viola and percussion. Whew. It was written in 1992 and feeatures fairly typical time bracket notation, but it's written as a collection of parts without an overall score. I think this is about the right number of elements for an interesting number piece. I've generally been disappointed with the two really large ones I have heard (103 and 1O1), because it was hard to make out particular instruments, and the strings always seemed to dominate. In Thirteen the strings are present throughout, but they don't overpower the other instruments. I feel in listening that everyone gets to make itself known. The strings mostly serve to anchor the music, whereas the wind instruments sometimes engage in long sighs and other times whistle in for a sharp brief moment (sometimes even playing fragments of melody, it seems). The percussion in this recording seems to be a triangle or some other "ding" instrument (mentally I classify percussion instruments as "ding," "bomp," "whish," "thud" and "tingle"). Actually there are two percussionists playing so I'm not sure where the second one is at.

Overall, I like the music, but it's nothing really out of the ordinary as far as number pieces go--it's slow, atmospheric, and naturalistic. I probably won't remember it very well.

Etudes Boreales for Piano
There are two parts for 1978's Boreales, one for cello and one for piano. Curiously, they have never been performed together! This is the part for piano, which is not strictly a piano composition and involves lots of external piano construction sounds. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the keys on the piano are almost never actually pressed! However, there are a few tones created by manipulating the strings directly. Of course, the strings are also sometimes manipulated without intention, when the whole body is hit.

When the keys are hit, sometimes a single note is heard and other times a series or chord is heard. In this piece, Cage evidently tried to bring out all the sounds of the piano, but I find that the sounds are pretty limited. There's keypress, sring plucks, and thumps. The best parts are the rare but unidentifiable sounds-a strange creak, a twisting sound like a screw. One can only guess where the sounds came from, and making such guesses is part of the fun of listening.

This is a work for piano, percussion, several brass instruments and a whole bunch of strings. It was written in 1992. I think the best parts about the music are the wonderful set of celestial chimes, as well as the very slow sliding tones of some of the brass instruments. The percussion plays a more significant part in this music than it did in Thirteen. I'm amazed by the amount of silence despite the large number of instruments, which is particularly interesting considering how loud some of the smaller number pieces have such loudness and excitement to them. There is about a minute with no sound (or not enough to overpower my computers fans) around the 20th minute of the recording I am listening to.

For me, this is one of Cage's most sucessful larger works. I like the lack of dominance of any one part of the orchestra, and the quiet, peaceful and meditative music that results from the cumulative action (or inaction!) of so many people. Best of all I like the more extensive use of percussion than is typical for most of the other number piece performances I have heard. As natural analogs go, I'd describe this as a day on the sea, with gusts of wind and a calm, lapping ocean that sometimes freezes into total stillness and perhaps even loneliness.

Sonatas and Interludes
This is Cage's supposed magnum opus for prepared piano, and barely needs an introduction. It's from 1948, and at least in concept is built around the Indian perception of emotions. Despite it's fame this has never been my most favorite of Cage's prepared piano works. This might because I listened only to Boris Berman's Naxos recording. While his renditions of the dance accompaniments on another Naxos release are some of the best of all the performances I've heard, I think the Sonatas and Interludes performance falls pretty flat. Here I am listening to the Schleiermacher version, which has a lot more "life" to it.

Two preconceptions have to be dispensed with right away. First, while the music is in theory based on the Indian emotions, you can't really tell which is which. In mood, I think all of the pieces are essentially very similar: subtle, quiet, mysterious. Second, if you're looking for the exciting rhythms found in some of Cage's dance works like Spontaneous Earth or Totem Ancestor, you are looking in the wrong place. In my view, SOnatas and Interludes was one of the first little hints of where Cage would be going in the 50's and beyond. The rhythmic structure in the work is extremely sophisticated, but I don't think anyone who has not seen the score and who is experienced with music analysis would have any hope of perceiving the rhythmic structure just from listening. That in itself is what makes me uncomfortable about Sonatas and Interludes' status as Cage's masterwork: it just seems strange to spend so much effort on something that can't be heard.

Another reason this work is considered so important is the sheer amount of piano preparation involved: there's many screws, bolts and bits of rubber added and the preparation takes several hours. Once again, though, it seems like all that work does not produce very many highly distinctive sounds: the music sounds like it's coming from a mildly modified piano and there are none of the heavily percussive elements I have come to expect from the prepared piano.

The two facts above make it pretty hard for me to get into the proper frame of mind to appreciate the pieces. I think headphones are called for here, and I think it needs to be approached in a vastly different way than Cage's other prepared piano output. I say it hints at where Cage would go later because the music is subtle, but it is not charming; it exists and has some tension, but there is no immediacy to it. It doesn't seem to care whether anyone is listening or not, and has no melodies or distinct rhythms that stay with you. That is, the music does not have a great deal of personality, and I guess I just feel like it should.

The big exception, for what it's worth, is Sonata XII, which I absolutely adore! I also find the Interludes to be quite interesting, too.

Friday, January 20, 2006



So in order to more fully enjoy my classical music (using the most broad possible definition of the word) collection, this past week I wrote a straightforward program that provides a shuffled playlist of music while keeping all the parts of a particular work together and in the correct order.  I don’t know why music programs don’t have this feature already, except that different people label their music differently so it might be challenging to make a solution that works for everyone.  Of course, this particular probably won’t work for people who don’t sort their music the same way I do, that is, people who sort it badly... ;-)

It’s been very helpful because I like the surprise of hearing music I would not have selected to listen to on my own; instead the ‘chance operation’ of the shuffler chooses for me.  As I was listening a while ago, an as-of-yet un-reviewed Cage work came up, so I figured I should make the best of the opportunity that has presented itself!

I’m cheating a little here.  Branches is just a bunch of repetitions of Child of Tree, but because the first performance is considered to be Child of Tree, I extracted it and reviewed it earlier!  The extended version, Branches, was composed in 1976.  There are basically two types of sounds in Branches: The rattling noises, made with various pod rattles.  These have very similar timbres but some sound higher and others lower.  The second sound source is plucked cactus needles, which I always seem to mistake for dripping water.  They are amplified to such a degree that they sound like loud popping or bouncing noises (other sounds, such as leaves tearing and movement of other plant materials may be involved here too).  The effect is a lot like Cartridge Music, but because the sounds are more specific, I find it more pleasing to hear.

The performers generally seem to play the rattles with some pretty steady rhythms.  One of the rhythms they chose was not especially pleasing to my ears.  If it had just a little bit more creakiness to it, the sound would be identical to the sound of the couple who live upstairs from me, and because of whom I bought earplugs last year.  Actually, this particular pod-rattle shaking went on for much longer than those overheard noises, too: another difference.  Anyway, my favorite rattle rhythms are where the performer seems to be moving it slowly back and forth across a surface, rather than just shaking it in the air.

There is no discernable rhythm to the cactus plucking, except a few cases where several sounds seem to come in sequence.  Each tone is a little bit different, and some are exceptionally loud and resonant.  These particular cacti must have a huge number of spines considering how many plucks I hear, and apparently the removal is done with toothpicks.  I’m not clear how that works exactly!  Since I don’t hear any grunts, I presume none of the performers accidentally jabbed themselves...Sometimes the sounds are like bubbling noises, and I don’t really understand where that came from.

The key to this particular recording of the work is the resonant environment they chose to perform in, since it really brings the amplified noises to life.  It sounds good at high volumes, and I actually find myself ridiculously tapping my foot to the rattle shaking.  

I think this work may also represent one of Cage’s first forays into the world of improvisation, something he normally disliked.  It is subtitled, after all, Improvisation I, and performers are instructed to “clarify the time structure” with their improvisations playing the instruments.


Europeras 3 and 4

I guess I have more or less shifted to a new posting style, since I think interest in this project from others has dwindled somewhat.  I’m now listening to a few things and then posting every couple of days instead of every day.  This past week I specifically tried to get out of the way the music that I was looking forward to the least.  So here’s about three hours worth of reviews of things I don’t much want to hear again!

A Dip in the Lake: Waltzes 23-61; Marches 1-28; Marches 29-56
This is a continuation of the work for recordings of Chicago.  I went ahead and heard the last hour and a half the other day, which was interesting but just not interesting enough to warrant such an investment of time.  The best sounds were heard among the first two in the three remaining “chunks.”  In the first, I heard some nice siren noises and a few instances of people speaking.  It’s when there is a distinctive sound that you can pick up the rhythm of its re-use most effectively.  In the second (the first collection of marches), there was the clear sound of the Chicago airport, which made me smile.  I ended up there often when If flew home from Cleveland in college, even though going northwest is not the most efficient way to head to a location to the southeast.  The last section featured sounds that seemed to be recorded inside a car, but I wasn’t sure.

I’m also not sure of the rhythms associated with this music, whether there is a specific rhythm or not.  I could hear repetitions, and a few times they reminded me of waltz patterns and such, but I’m not totally sure.  Oh yeah, I heard two pieces of pop music: one rock song played in such a distorted manner that I could recognize the tune but not put a name on it, and one hip-hop track played on the street.  

This work reminds me of N30, a recording by Christopher DeLaurenti.

Europeras 3 and 4
Oh man, this was the most boring thing I have ever heard in my life.  How do you come up with an experience more irritating than opera itself?  Simply pile a whole bunch of operas together!  Whew, what an experience.  This set (the two operas must be performed in sequence) is from 1990.  No. 3 involves six singers, two pianos, Victrolas, and the Truckera tape of loud, indecipherable opera superimpositions..  No. 4 has two singers, one piano, one Victrola, and Truckera once again.  

A disclaimer for this review should be stated, if it’s not obvious by now...Basically, I find the singing used in opera to be utterly and completely repulsive.  Normally when I hate something, I try to expose myself to it more to see what I can get out of it, but it’s been a total failure with opera.  To those who say Cage’s Europeras are a parody of opera I say, “No; opera is a bloated and disgusting parody of itself.”  I remember reading a review of Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha that suggested the dialogue was hackneyed, but which also conceded that if the author could understand the language of all the “great” European operas, he’d probably feel the same way about them.

Now...with that off my chest, I’ll try to offer some thoughts while keeping my general hatred of the music in check :-)

The recording was generally pretty quiet in Europera 3, because the performers were scattered around the stage.  Often they would outsing one another.  I did not find that the Victrola players played anywhere near the significance that they played in Europera 5 (which I actually enjoyed because of its nostalgic, slightly sad atmosphere).  I didn’t feel as if the sound mixing in this recording worked well, either, since the piano seemed to be much louder than the singers ever were, and although I sometimes heard the Victrolas, it was rare that they managed to get my attention, totally unlike Europera 5.  The highlight of the recording was the Truckera tape which, I’m sad to report, didn’t actually show up that much.  I remember liking it a lot in Europera 5 and I thought it could be used to great effect here in this more exuberant performance, but it wasn’t.  

I’m afraid I really didn’t tell much difference between Europera 3 and Europera 4, except that the latter was shorter (thank goodness).  I’d probably enjoy going to a performance of this, because the silliness of the activities on stage would probably be very entertaining and would distract me from the overbearing false intensity of the singers.  As an audio-only recording of a live event, though, I’m afraid I can’t enjoy it one bit—even the parts I liked the most from Europera 5 seemed to be minimized or too hard to hear.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Solo for Voice 2

Well, I’ve been listening, but not posting so much.  I finished the First Meeting and will add my thoughts on the second part (actually, it’s all one big thing, not truly divided into parts) to the review from the previous day later.  Today I will add my thoughts on tonight’s listening and last night’s as well.  That should bring me up to speed, except I think I still have a few things from weeks ago to fill in.  

Not many works remain, but they are all long ones.  We’ve got two Europeras coming, a bunch of lengthy number works (notable Thirteen and Five3), a recording of the Concert for Piano and Orchestra, two more sets of Variations, a few miscellaneous short piano works, and a few alternative versions of works I’ve already heard, including the highly anticipated Cheap Imitation version for orchestra!  Less anticipated, at least by me, are another hour or so of A Dip in the Lake and another bunch of Freeman EtudesI...:-(

My estimation is 22 days or fewer to finish up, which puts the end sometime during the week of Febuary 8th!  

I contacted Claudia Gould of the Institute for Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania ( ),  It was for her Music Box Project that Lullaby for music box was created.  I wanted to
  1. verify that Cage created it himself for her project (as opposed to it being a transcription of sorts made following his death) and

  2. See if she knew where a recording might be (a CD was sold at the original exhibition).  
Because I’m a complete nobody, my email probably never got read.  Directors of art instutes no doubt have better things to do than answer questions about ridiculously obscure music ;-)

Anyway, maybe someone less irrelevant could try.  Otherwise I might try writing a “snail mail” letter on the letterhead of some nonexistent John Cage association, call myself the “director,” and see if that is noticed!  Persistence is the key, and my goal in life is to get a copy of this recording,  

Actually, my goal in life is to get the prepared train recording that languishes in the Florence library.  This is a secondary goal!

This is a 1991 number piece for flute, oboe, trombone, piano, and string quartet.  It uses overlapping time brackets and single tones.  Ol’ quotes the score with “Search with them for melisma, florid song,” which sends me straight to a dictionary for melisma.  It didn’t help, I’m afraid; the sentence still doesn’t make much sense, unless Cage is saying the performance should be seeking to find music suitable for melisma.  

Anyway, I don’t think my Hat Art performance is very good.  I didn’t enjoy hearing it very much; there was a whole lot of silence in spite of the decent number of instruments, which is fine I suppose...I guess I’d say that no aspect of the performance really made the music sound like anything other than “generic number piece” with single tones.  In this case, none of the tones were held long enough for intense consideration.  

In terms of the nature metaphor, I felt this performance sounded like animal noises, especially the strings which often brought to mind howling in the distance (perhaps this was because I was noticing the microtonal shifts Cage requires).  Perhaps I was just not in the right mood for enjoying it.  

Solo for Voice 2
Now this performance, by contrast, was incredible, even if I believe it to not be a very authentic version of the work.  It’s the only performance of the 1960 Solo that exists, too, so it gets special consideration!  I don’t know why no one records the two Solos on their own, considering how popular Aria is.  Anyway, this particular one is indeterminate, and the recording I have uses human voices completely demolished by electronics.  David Tudor and Gordon Mumma created it on the “Extended Voices LP” (thanks, as is often the case, is owed to Lothar here).  It’s a whirlwind of screeches and groans and really horrific sounds, but it was also completely enjoyable.  

Some of the time, you can make out distinct human voices underneath the layers of electronic modification, but sometimes it’s just near ear-shattering cacophony.  You get voices slowed down and buried in static, and some that are laced with feedback (at one extended portion of this type, I had to turn my speakers down lest someone above me have nightmares).  

To what degree Cage wanted electronics to be used in this work is unknown to me, but I’m sure the rest of that LP would be fun to hear!

This is a cello work from 1992, to be performed with a curious curved bow that allows sounds to be produced on up to four strings.  Like One9, it can be played simultaneously with One8.  The resulting sound is relatively sparse, although it does not need to be so since the time brackets overlap.  The cello sounds are especially intriguing, because I can often mentally break apart the chord being played into its constituent parts.  I think all the small number pieces also have a significant spatial aspect.  When tones are played long, it can be fun to shift my position around and hear how the note changes as I move in my room.  

I’m afraid my ability to think of a natural analog of this music is failing me (it’s always harder with the Ones, as the music is not as much a landscape), except maybe some sort of fountain with multiple streams pouring at different times.  I’m afraid it sounds a little too much like some of the other string-based number pieces to be very exciting to me.  

As a final note, the time of the work is 43’30, which is a Cage in-joke if I ever saw one...;-)    

Friday, January 13, 2006



Tonight I will be posting a combination of tonight and last night, since I was too tired at 3 AM to write anything yesterday.  I’m glad to say that my cold is slowly disappearing.  Die, you nasty rhinovrus, die, I say!  

I randomly found a recording that claims to be Solo for Voice 1, which has never been independently recorded.  But I might be wrong.  We shall see.

Tossed As It Is Untroubled
This music for prepared piano is from 1943.  It consists essentially of a single melody repeated with minor variations, over and over.  It’s got a great rhythm, and I find the melody to be pretty memorable.  In my recording, a clanging in the prepared piano emerges towards the midway point.  I am curious if this is intentional, or just an artifact of the way the preaparations where made (i.e., something came loose).  I’d call this my 2nd or 3rd favorite prepared piano work, the favorite being the one I have put off to the end: Totem Ancestor.  

Music for Piano 37-52
This is a confusing one, because 1955’s Music for Piano 21-36; 37-52 is considered “one work,” and yet they are sperated by a semicolon.  I can only guess that the two sets are part of one work but result from different sets of paper imperfections.  Anyway, in this recording, they are played as distinctive items.  

I gotta admit...the super sparse piano is wearing a little thin!  This music was all single tones, along with various thumping and slamming sounds, even more than usual.  It sounded more hollow than other music in the series, but I don’t know why that might be.  Ther e is much string-plucking as well.

This is a 1991 work for 26 violins, played on the OgreOgress recording, I believe.  The first one I bought!  I guess I have mixed feelings about the use of overdubbing, but having not heard any non-overdubbed performances to compare, and having some idea how the music “works” I don’t think it’s a problem.

The first thing I wrote down when I heard this music was “shimmering.”     I find it hard to consider listening to this as anything other than swimming; when I did my Cage presentation, this was the recording I used to suggest water.  I’d say it’s among my favorite Number Piece recordings of all; the music goes on for long enough for me to be hypnotized by it, but there’s enough variety in the entering and exiting violin sounds that I don’t go to sleep, and it’s not so long that my ears become tired of it.  

Actually, maybe I am not thinking of swimming exactly, but something less active.  Perhaps simply being swept into a whirlpool...

Music for Piano 3
Another in the series, No. 3 is super-sparse and very short with only a handful of solitary notes (seven, in fact).  Nevertheless, the sound is continious thanks to the sustain pedal.  All of the sounds are produced using the keyboard, and seem to occur within a fairly limited range.  It sounds best played with others in the series, I think.  

Spontaneous Earth
More prepared piano music, this time from 1944.  This one’s very tense and dramatic, another favorite of mine.  It has a lot of repeitions of the main dramatic theme, played progressively more forcefully.  The piano preparations result in a metallic sound added to most of the notes.  As I said, each repetition of the theme is played more and more forcefully, until the end of the piece, where it slowly fades out until a final long-held tone.  This seems to be a favorite effect of Cage’s.

The First Meeting of the Satie Society, part 1
I listened to this tonight, since it’s about 50 minutes long.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2006



Another day, another annoying cold.  I took some of that new non-drowsy antihistamine to stop the faucets, but it’s left me feeling a bit on the floaty side.  Hopefully this review will be coherent in spite of that fact.

Reading the liner notes of Litany for the Whale today, I discovered that their performance of Experiences II omitted a line of text and reordered others.  This confuses me.  If you’re going to perform a work, why not do it right?  I mean, at least the conductor of that 103 recording had an explanation, however silly it was, for ignoring the score.  Hmm.  

This is a violin work intended to accompany a sound sculpture that causes string vibrations as it melts and is mostly a big pile of very long tones.  It should be appropriate for my stupor tonight, I think.  It was created in 1990.  

Curiously most of the violin tones sound essentially the same, or else my ears are too inadequate to determine the differences.  Once in awhile, the particular note shifts though, sometimes lower and sometimes higher.  There are also extended silences.  As usual, the extended playing of the notes allows me to hear the subtle variations in timbre; at certain points, too, I can observe how the sound changes as the violinist increases or decreases volume.

The string music always brings to mind water, partially because of the rushing sound of the bowing.  On this case, I think of a rather placid lake, still for most of the time, but disturbed occasionally by a pebble falling in.  The resulting ripples are observed in extreme slow motion through this music, persisting for awhile, and then vanishing back into silence when the lake is still again.

And yes, the music did come close to putting me to sleep yet again.  I think that is a consequence of the extended silences, and the brush-like nature of performance.  It’s very soothing.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2006



Tonight I had the strange experience of buying a $1.00 Cage CD.  The local record srore had exactly six used albums in their classical music section.  I bought four of them: an Arnold Bax Symphony, Cage’s “Litany for the Whale” disc (I have access to the disc but did not own it until now), Allegri’s Misirere, and a disc full, of all things, of music for harmonica and orchestra.  Total cost was $6.50.  If only I could meet whoever brought those in...

At the bookstore, I sat around reading some book about some female oboe player, and was amused to learn that the classical music world is as much a drugged-out oversexed freak show as the rock and roll world, except everyday people actually want to hear rock music.  ;-)

Tonight I will do a big pile of fairly short works, including a
of a never-before recorded Cage work

The size of that text was absolutely essential.

Oh, I also made recordings of part of Art is a Complaint ot Do Something Else lately.    

Here of course is Cage’s infamous silent work, scored for any number of performers, performed infamously by David Tudor not long after it was written in 1952—incidentally, the only date I know off the top of my head!.  I recorded this myself, and enjoyed the experience.  The recording features miscellaneous sounds, mostly the sounds of my computer whirring and me sitting in my chair.  I hear myself breath a few times, and I hear myself shift positions.  Interesting, because I wasn’t aware my microphone was so sensitive.  

This may not be a legitimate recording, because I failed to not be playing an instrument...  

The traditional way of interpreting this piece is that the incidental noises are what form the music.  However, one of the ways I like to hear it is to suppose that I have to listen behind all the extraneous noises, that the music is the silence produced by the performer but all the other sounds—my computer, my blood, the electrical impulses in my brain--are too loud and drown it out.  I guess that’s kind of the sad view of 4’33”.  

The work is divided into three movements, although I did not do anything to indicate this in the recording since it would involve intentionally producing sound.  Maybe splitting the track into three parts would have been a way to do it?  

This is a three-minute work for unspecified percussion from 1991, and it brings to mind Three2 which I reviewed previously and may be from the same disc.  Similar rushing sounds are heard, and rattling as well.  It’s great for a windy, rustic night such as this.  Overall, though it’s atmospheric, but fairly nondescript.  The score is just about as simple as they come, featuring number superimposed on staff lines, indicating when the performers should start and stop their sounds.  I think i would have preferred a more radily recognizable percussion instrument ot two.

Music for Carillon No. 2
This work from 1954 was created using holes in cardboard, and can be adapted for any type of carillon.  

Music for Carillon No. 3
This work, also from 1954, uses the exact smae materials as No. 2 but simply is read upside down.  

This work from 1962 is also called 4’33” No. 2, and is intended to be performed in any way by anyone, within certain specifications: It must be amplified, the actions taken must fufill an obligation to others, and the actions cannot be performing music.  

This was recorded while typing up the revision of the Water Walk review last night, and this is a world premiere recording, but not technically the one I am referring to in the intro.  Primarily what I hear are keyboard sounds, including some rocking back and forth as a consequence of the way I amplified the sound.

I had no contact microphones, so I attatched the end of a stethoscope under my keyboard, and then used clay do fashion a tube leading from the earpiece directly into my microphone.  The result sounds pretty good; the keyboard is amplified and not much else can be heard.  It’s interesting how the spacebar has such a distinctive forceful sound to it.

Two is an early number piece scored for flute and piano, and a pain to find!  Thanks to Lothar for a copy.  It was written in 1987, and to my ears seems pretty distinct from its followers in the same genre.  

59 ½ for a String Player
Only one solo recording of this that I know of exists, and it’s on a “Wonderful Widows” disc that I now, annoyingly, have three copies of!  It was written in 1953, and the performer chooses what four strings are referred to by the notation.  Bowing pressure and auxillary sounds are indicated, too.  

This work from 1991 is scored for three clarinets (one bass), a horn and timpani.  I’m grateful for the timpani, because it adds some fun to the music.

This is a wonderful piece that’s depressignly hard to find a copy of; credit goes to Greg for this one.  The duration of the 1977 work is mostly taken up by the sound of water in conch shells being tipped over, which sometimes produces noises and sometimes does not.  Added to this is the sound of a burning pinecone and a single, drawn out blow on a shell.  I rather wish the last part wasn’t there; it is so loud that I have to keep the volume on my stereo down to avoid waking the dead.  However, when I do that, I have trouble healing the watery sounds, much less the pinecone.  

Cage’s first and only performance of this work in Tokyo in 1989 was in response to a request to perform 4’33”.  Feeling that silence had changed since the 50’s, he chose to do this.  he sound system of the performance area has its volume raised until the point that it is about to feedback.  I didn’t really get what this meant until I bought my microphone a few weeks ago, and annoyed my ears with lots and lots of feedback, and I subsequently felt like an idiot.

But after that, I realized that I could use this fact to produce my own rendition of One3.  So I set my volume levels and kept one hand on the mouse as I recorded, because my feedback is a little shaky.  There will be none for a long time, and then suddenly it explodes.  So in a way, my listening was even more intense than in the original 4’33”.  I also did as Cage did in the original performance, and measured time with my inner clock, resulting in a performance that made it to five minutes and thirty seconds.  A minute too long!

The sound is much the same, except I can hear a very vague moaning sound that might be a little feedback creeping in, and it does seem as if sounds in general are louder and more hollow-sounding.  I can hear myself breating in the One3 recording more than the 4’33” recording, anyway.  It was an awful lot of fun to record.

Monday, January 09, 2006


Music of Changes

Well, I have returned!  Back in the sleepy college town where I will hear Cage each night, not coincidentally just before sleeping.  I can’t exaggerate how much I have missed my speakers.  Hearing Cage on headphones is a lot different and less fun than playing it loudly while I sit around and eat spaghetti and cheese.  I am feeling glad to be back and feel like tackling something big, so I’ll hear a work that is central to Cage’s output, and because it is shorter than I remembered, I’ll throw in a surprise.  

Music of Changes
This is Cage’s first massive exploration of chance operations in compositions.  He allowed chance to dictate all the details of playing this piano music, from the keys pressed, the pedals, to the times when the performer should use the lid and the strings inside the piano.  It was written in 1951.

Of all the chance-driven piano music cage ever wrote, this is by far the most fun to listen to.  I think that’s because of the sheer array of different sounds: individual notes, chords, sustained and un-sustained sounds, plucks of the strings, tone clusters, glissandos, and even curious strings of fast notes that seem to me to be melodic.  It makes me wonder how Cage incorporated them into the music, or chose them in the first place.  

Sometimes music from Berio or other composers seems almost like it is purposefully harsh and painful to listen to, but I have never gotten that sense with Cage.  I guess the chance-determined nature of the music results in chords and tone progressions that are sometimes ear-pleasing and sometimes not, but I never feel like they are being thrust upon me, but rather just presented for my examination.  It is hard to describe better what I mean.  I would also separate this from my experience of his later works by saying that it does not bring to mind natural processes the way the later ones do; in fact, I would say it seems very artificially constructed and goes to an opposite extreme.  

Finally, the curious piano body noises are especially interesting in the Music of Changes because they are so rare.  

Water Walk
This is a recording provided from German radio by Lothar.  It’s one of two works Cage composed for the Italian quiz show he won back in 1959.  The score is a timeline of events in which objects are manipulated and sounds are made as a result.  Most of the sounds are water-oriented, and it should be fun for me to try and figure out what they are.  

Overall, I would describe the recording as a fair bit more successful than Water Music.  This is because I could readily identify most of the sounds, which were generally quite loud.  The bird whistles were obvious (waterfowl, I think) and the sounds of the blender crushing ice were also quite obvious.  The only thing I am unsure about is the loud blowing noise which seems to me to be an air horn.  The piece got especially interesting towards the end, with lots of noises from the radio and the ice crusher and so on.  Audience laughter suggests that the performance had some fun visual elements, too!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Quartets I-VIII

Today I’ll hear a little orchestral music.  I head back to Blacksburg Sunday, at which point resuming more regular reviews will be easier.  Listening on my headphones constantly gives me a bit of a headache here.  

Quartets I-VIII
This music follows the same precedent of Apartment House 1776 and Cheap Imitations and other works: music based on decompositions of other music.  In this case, it is various hymns played by an orchestra of 24, 41 or 93 players (I don’t remember how many players this version has, but because it was on a disc with Sixty-Four I am guessing 41 or 93).  As a consequence of the way they are composed, the music is atypically sweet and melodic.  Only four instruments play at any given time, and I believe in all cases the orchestra is primarily strings and wind instruments without use of keyboards or percussion, but I may be wrong   I’m afraid I can’t read orchestra notation, it just looks like a bunch of IP addresses to me.  

I don’t hear any notes that seem ‘broken,’ so I don’t believe the music was substantially modified other than the removed notes (an exception is a few plucked string sounds that show up in unexpected places).  I do, however, hear a number of places where I think the missing notes were taken out.  Overall, the music is pastoral, and I have difficulty telling any of the compositions apart.  I always enjoy Cage’s “subtractions” but I wish he had done a little more with this music, mixing it up a little bit, maybe producing something like The Beatles.  Although I have not heard the original music, I suspect he has maintained their sense of peace and dignity in spite of his modifications of them.

Imaginary Landscape No. 5
This is a work for tape created through the use of 42 records spliced into a collage.  Cage used jazz records, and so naturally enough I am also hearing it in a version for jazz records.  I think Greg wanted to make a version for natural sounds, but I would tend to prefer creating it using pre-existing musical materials and like my version a lot.  This is a version whose origin is uncertain.  I found it by searching for “Imaginary Landscape mp3” on Google back in 2002, but I did not make note of the site.  It seems to be as accurate as the ones on the Online Recordings page of (the site is down but still available via Google’s cache—you might wanna save a copy of it).  I say it’s accurate because the Maelstrom recording off Hat Art’s Imaginary Landscapes CD seems way too short to be a legitimate version; it clocks in at barely over a minute, as I recall, and unless I am mistaken the score is determinate in terms of length.  

In this version, most of the recordings seem to be 20’s style big band tunes, but I’m the first to admit I have little knowledge of jazz music.  It’s got a nice groove to it, even though the particular groove I experience at any given moment is always interrupted.  I think the music gives an interesting snapshot of jazz, and I can tell pretty easily that these were originally records given the sound.  It’s a little hollow and old sounding.  I like this rendition a lot.  I note that a few of the recordings are speed-modified during the performance, and I wonder if this is correct because it only shows up towards the end...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006



Today I didn’t feel like making a complicated playlist, so I picked Two2 which just happens to be 46 minutes long.  Some days I like to hear a variety of different styles, some days I just want to hear something constant.  Today was a beautiful day outside, around 76 degrees with a nice breeze.  Even in Alabama, that’s odd for midwinter!

Hope everyone is having a good new year.  I have enjoyed buying music for myself as of late.  Specifically, I’ve discovered that one of the local stores has a giant display of discs from Naxos.  What I like about that label is the number of times I say “I didn’t know...” when I examine their discs.  For example, I bought a disc of alpenhorn music yesterday.  And I like the harp, and their harp collection was one of the extremely few collections that included only works actually written for the harp as opposed to a million transcriptions of other random stuff.  

I wrote to them and encouraged them to do more Cage recordings, especially of later works.  I really liked the 2nd prepared piano disc they released (I was less enthusiastic with the Sonatas and Interludes recording but that may because I am less enthusiastic about that work as a whole).  Anyway, it would be interesting to hear a version of some of the number pieces using an actual full contingent of performers instead of overdubbing and see if the result sounds any different, for better or worse.  

From 1989 comes an early number piece for two pianos.  Oddly, it lacks the usual time brackets and instead there are 36 lines of music played at any tempo, though the ordering for both parts is strict.  The first result I notice is that the resulting sound is a little fuller and seems a bit less focused on individual notes.  The sustain pedal keeps the sound going a long while, and there’s an interesting mix of chords and single notes played.  

I am guessing the chords were chosen by chance operations of some sort.  Unlike other sparse piano music, there’s not much silence here at all, even when there are no notes played, thanks to the sustained sound.  It’s much more like other number pieces than the early 50’s piano works in this regard.  I think it’s a good choice for a night time listen.  In fact, I think most of Cage’s number pieces would be ideally played in some kind of garden or other open natural space late in the evening.  

Heh, it’s getting a little harder to say new things, at least with regards to the piano music, which there is so much of!

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