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...

Is Quartets I-VIII on the same CD with Sixty-Eight? I've been looking for this Hat CD for years! How lucky you are to have a copy of it. I've yet to hear Sixty-Eight which I assume sounds a lot like Seventy-Four, based on what I've read. In 1992 Cage started to reduce his Number Pieces down to a few notes and spread those notes in quasi-unison among large numbers of players. Microtonal effects and complex changing colors are the result. Eighty uses the same technique and One13 reduces this idea down to one note and one player. In these very last works, Cage exploits and develops his own version of Klangfarben Melodie (Tone Color Melody). Cage's teacher Arnold Schoenberg was widely known for exploiting and expanding this technique. During Cage's final years and especially in the Number Pieces, Cage would comment on the history of music as he revisited different periods and styles of composition, while making them his own. In his last years Cage would become "neo-everything", much more so than any other composer before him.
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