Wednesday, February 22, 2006



Well, I have enough new material for a few new reviews!  They come from my “unowned” list, which has now been updated.  Thanks to Andre for One12 and others which I’ll tackle tomorrow.

Three Pieces for Flute Duet
This composition from 1935 has three parts titled (uncharacteristically for Cage) “Allegro giocoso,” “Andante cantabile,” and “Grave adagio.”  These more or less describe what the music sounds like.  The first piece is a brief, bouncy introduction of sorts.  The second is cheerful and the third, perhaps the most interesting, is fairly dramatic.  The pieces are all chromatic and seem overall cold and modern (I’d compare it to the atonal music I’ve heard), and basically typical of Cage’s early piano works.  

Five Songs for Contralto
More early Cage songs from 1938.  The accompaniment is not especially overbearing, but a little more prominent than in the earlier Three Songs.  In all the songs, it’s played with brief notes and with great nervous energy.

The text is based on poetry from e. e. cummings.  “Little Four Paws” is a cute song about cats, but not particularly clear in its meaning.  “Little Christmas Tree” is a sad song addressed to a tree that has been cut down.  It becomes progressively more absurd with the narrator saying he will kiss the tree’s heart and hold it close like it’s mother would (don’t tree “mothers” pretty much toss their “kids” on the ground?).  The tree will then end up standing tall and proud, well-dressed in a window.  “In Just” seems to be discussing a spring day with children playing and a balloon man whistling.  It has little variation in melody.  “hist Whist” is mostly nonsense alliterative text and a somewhat clearer melody than normal; the vibrato in the voice obscures a lot of the text.  “Another comes (Tumbling-hair)” is slow and an appropriate (though not interesting) finale.  It discusses flowers in a field, primarily.  The images as a whole invoke a lot of rustic, homey imagery.

This is an abnormal number piece, written for a lecturer.  The performer says a word with the number of letters specified by numbers in the score.  I’m not sure if words are provided or not; in this performance Cage seems to be pronouncing words in more than one language, with only a few obvious English words (including “river” and “red”).  Since each letter is given a tone, a song-like structure is produced.  At certain points, Cage uses strange vocal styles and seems to be choking a little.  

If I were to compare to anything, I’d compare it to a reading of 62 Mesostics Re: Merce Cunningham, except witout such a...outrageous variety of sounds.  This is a much softer, more relaxed vocal performance.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


The Seasons for piano

And so it ends (except for everything else). The question is...What now? Well, for starters I need to go fill in all those reviews I didn’t quite finish writing! I’ll also be adding more and more as they show up. I did go ahead and buy the two missing easily-available Cage CD’s, and I have access to that Reunion recording. Once those all arrive, that will be a new review. Beyond that, I’ll look forward to new releases (there’s still plenty of stuff left to record, check the unrecorded list!) and comment on them as they arrive.

Oh, yeah, I should probably rewrite the unrecorded work list, and maybe put some effort into figuring out why particular works have never been recorded. For whatever it’s worth, here is my Top 10 list of unrecorded works, in no real order:
  1. Speech 1955

  2. Renga

  3. Music for Carillon No. 4 (including all instruments)

  4. One?, for cameraman

  5. Marriage at the Eiffel Tower

  6. Music for “The Marrying Maiden”

  7. 27’10 etc. for a Percussionist (a normal version)

  8. Solos for Voice 1 & 2

  9. Song Books, all solos performed in sequence (which I can then play simultaneously at random)

  10. Unpublished early works: First Chapter of Ecclesiastes, Greek Ode, Chess Pieces, Piano Etudes (if they still exist), Haiku

Maybe someone thinking “Ugh, I want to record Cage, but I don’t know what to do!” will read this and do something from it ;-)

The blog format is not very convenient for my faithful readers, so I guess what I will do is begin the slow process of downloading the entire blog and moving it to a new website. I’ll extract all the references to eating noodles and so on, and reorganize it and try to find some sort of synthesis of this experience I have undergone. On the one hand, the random order of the experience has made it hard to see the threads between different works, but at the same time I know they are there, so “something” useful should result.

Maybe I can ad banner advertising and make a million dollars and go bribe the European librarians to send me all their prepared train and music box recordings. :-)

Music for Piano No. 2
This work consists of groupw of notes on four pages created via paper imperfections. Being an early piece in the series (1953), it doesn’t have anything besides note specified, so there are no extraneous piano noises. The music is not particularly sparse and there are plenty of sounds. Dynamics are chosen by the performer, and I would call this chance-determined but not indeterminate music.

Variations IV
Cage reached an extreme in the 1960’s, producing compositions which cannot reasonably be described as music (except insofar as “everything is music” in which case the word is worthless), in my opinion. Variations IV from 1963 is one such work. Creation of a performance begins with a map of the performance area onto which circles and points are peppered; these shapes represent the locations at which activities might occur. No indication of what these sounds are is given, and thus once again we have a performance that is, to me, much more the creation of the performer than the composer.

To go further, I’d call interpreting some of Cage’s more peculiar scores like this one and Variations III and others in the series something close to divination. Cage’s score is the tortoise shell; or the night sky, or the palm, or whatever.

Anyway...about this recording! It’s basically a bi mixture of sound sources scattered in a perofrmance space: many of them recordings of voices, some of them sounds of the street or a cafe. There’s also a lot of music. Curiously, no Cage music. The first time I heard it I thought, “This is a really long version of the Beatles’ Revolution 9.”

Overall it’s not much fun to hear, although I do like the cathedral bells and some of the strange radio and/or movie extractions. Once again, I’ll say this sort of thing is a lot of fun for performers and participants in the activity, but recording it is of not much use (even this recording is merely a bunch of excerpts from an all-day performance).

The Seasons for piano
This is the 1947 work, and I already heard the orchestral versions. Cage uses the Indian interpretation of seasons in a series of relatively brief pieces with interludes between them. The piano version has a lighter and more emotive feel to it than the orchestrated version, in my opinion. Listening to the spring section, in particular, just sounds more full of fluttering and more breezy in the piano performance. Additionally, I don't feel as distracted by certain elements that seem unique to the orchestral version (for example, the strings come in with notes during Spring that do not seem to be played by the piano at all). The theme of the first prelude returns in the finaly, and it is a theme I find haunting. That aspect of the music is the only part I prefer in the orchestral version. As I think I said in my comments on the other performance, I really like Spring, and like Winter some, but the other two don't do too much to excite me.

Music for Piano 85
Here’s a piece that is appropriate enough to end on. It was written in 1962 and is the last in the series of Music for Pianio. The instructions include refrences to feedback. The performance is very silent and begins with a scream of sorts. A glissando flies in, and a single held tone...Feeback is heard! Fortunately, the feedback is not as painful as in some of the other recordings. Most of the work, anyway, is taken up by single tones with long silences in between. The additional sounds of the piano body and the feedback add some entertainment. Oddly, I actually kind of like it!

Sunday, February 05, 2006


Totem Ancestor

Welcome to the 2nd to last day of the Cageblog.  Tonight I’ll cover a wide swath of miscellaneous pieces, and tomorrow we’ll end with a set of mostly piano music.  

I should say this is not truly the second-to-last day of reviewing because there’s some forthcoming releases by OgreOgress of otherwise unrecorded works (I am personally rather excited about the harp work, Postcard from Heaven).  Andre of is also donating a few obscure items.  That the list of “unowned Cage” is now down to 8, the first two I will break down and buy myself at some point (an aunt bought them for Christmas but they never arrived), two more are pretty irrelevant (an excerpt of a text piece and an arrangement).  The only truly significant work left is Song Books which is closer to theater than music, and thus hasn’t been recorded in a complete version very often at all.  

The final of the eight items can now be removed, thanks to this website:
which provides QuickTime audio of the Reunion performance.  I’ll need to add that to my list of things to cover; I only found it tonight!

Additionally, there’s apparently a recording of Eight from Megadisc out there, even though I can’t find it easily.  I continue to be on the hunt for Italians and Frenchpeople willing to assist in grabbing up the other two, Lullaby and Il Treno.    

Anyway, here’s tonight’s playlist:

Crete and Dad
Both these were written in 1945, and are extremely brief character sketches of Cage’s mother Lucretia (Crete) and father John Milton (Dad).  Crete is soft and melodic, with a seriousness to it.  Dad is a bit more jovial and bouncy, almost.  It’s also much more brief; the piece ends with the theme from Crete, suggesting Cage’s mothers dominance.

Cheap Imitation for orchestra
This is a 1972 work for 24 to 95 performers, without conductor.  The piano composition is divided up among the orchestra members using chance operation, each phrase being also subjected to chance operations to determine which notes and played and for how long.  

The reader might recall my dissatisfaction with the piano and violin versions of these works, which were certainly pretty boring.  The multitude of instruments makes this recording (one from radio donated by Lothar) much more beautiful, though.  Still, the piece does go on for awhile, and has a very dead feel to it.  Cheap Imitation, in my mind, is one of Cage’s least interesting works to hear.  Maybe it’s because it sounds, on the surface, like fairly traditional music, but yet it never seems to go anywhere the way a “normal” piece would.   And because the chance modifications to the original music are not, to my ear, as obvious as in the case of Apartment House 1776...I just can’t think of much to recommend it.  That being said, the orchestra version is easily the best of all the versions, and I don’t mind listening to it the way that the versions for violin and piano kind of annoyed me.

Well, OK, I have one complaint: the “finale” is a bit too extended.  Around minute eighteen you hear spaced single tones, played in almost a dramatic manner, which suggest the end of the music approaching...and approaching...and approaching...until it finally ends four minutes later.  I was eager for it to be done a bit sooner, I think!

Opening Dance for Sue L.
The last letters of the script titling the piece are illegible, but it’s probably for Sue Laub.  The work was likely written around 1940, and has a lot in common with other music from the period: strong rhythms, repeated themes, and a somewhat nervous, dramatic character.  It wouldn’t sound too out of place in Four Walls or The Seasons, actually.

Music for ...
There exist parts for voice, flute, oboe, clarinet, trumpet, horn, trombone, percussion, piano, violin, viola and cello, with multiple parts for some instruments, seventeen total.  They may be performed in any combination with the number of performers finishing the title.  The parts consist of time-bracketed sections with single held tones and sequences.  The piano is played by bowing (or at least one of the piano parts is).

This version is Music for Eight off the disc of the same title.  It features flute, clarinet, trumpet, two pianos (one bowed and one evidently not), two percussionists and one voice.  The music sounds much like a lot of the early number pieces, and bizarrely, I swear the clarinet is playing parts from Sonata for Clarinet, especially at the beginning.  Although there’s a wide variety of ways this work can be performed, I think they will all end up sounding rather similar.  I do miss not having any strings, but I expect they would sound a lot like the strings in the Freeman Etudes.  Cage does not specify or the instruments to be played as if brushed into existence, so the experience is (as is also true with early number pieces) maybe a little more like the chance-determined piano and orchestral works, but much less dense.  The tones are held, but not to any of the extremes as in later number pieces, and most of the sound events are brief; the keyboard-played piano especially.  The voice is not prominent and sounds like a cat at times.  

This is a popular work to perform since essentially any ensemble can do a version, but I think of it as less interesting than what Cage did with the some of the same ideas later on.

Jazz Study
Cage may or may not have written this.  I don’t think the jazz elements are surprising in Cage’s work though: I read Cage didn’t like jazz, but then I listen to all his pieces and find jazzy themes appearing throughout his work from the 40’s!  Consequently I think this is a legitimate Cage piece, probably written in the early 1940’s.  It’s certainly jazzy, featuring several jumpy, frenzied sections introduced by a quieter, lower insistent theme. It’s pretty fun, and you could dance to it, probably, but not exactly in the same way you can dance to the pieces with actual choreography ;-).  

Totem Ancestor
This is easily my favorite work of all the prepared piano pieces.  It was composed in 1942 for a dance.  The preparations include a rattling nut.  

The first part is urgent and repetitive, almost siren like; it soon breaks into a fast-paced and exciting group of rhythms that grow in intensity.  I think one of the major reasons I like it so much is the particular preparations that give the piano a metallic feel; the powerful attacks at the end of each rhythmic section are very exciting too.  I was introduced to Cage by 4’33 and then by the Naxos disc containing this recording, and I listened to it over and over and over again.  

Two Pieces for Piano 1935
This is the original (maybe?) version of a work that was revised in 1974.  It’s serial music, and I don’t really know what the 1978 revisions consisted of.  I’ll compare the two side by side here and see if I note any particular differences...

The slow movement does not advertise itself falsely, and is slow and straightforward.  I’m not sure about the differences here—one version is certainly played faster than the other, but that’s probably just the performer’s choice of tempo.  I feel like the revision might have some rhythms not present in the original...longtime readers might recall how I said it didn’t “sound” serial because so many notes were repeated in the rhythmic sections.  Perhaps this is the revision?  The faster part seems a little more melodic, and I really don’t notice any changes between the original and the revision.  It goes by a bit too quick for me to notice anything, though.  


Concert for Piano and Orchestra

Concert for Piano and Orchestra
This is among the most central works in all of Cage’s output, an example of individuals acting as individuals but producing a work as a whole, a kind of functional anarchy (although each part is specified in detail). All the parts were completed in 1958. Parts exist for piano, 3 violins, 2 violias, cello, double bass, flute, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, tuba and conductor. The music combines a lot of the ideas Cage had been experimenting with up until that point. To begin with, the music has parts but no overall score, and the parts may be played in any combination, thus it is indeterminate. Secondly, the parts themselves were written using chance operations, including paper imperfections. The conductor has his own part, in fact, and emulates a clock. All of the solos involve a wide array of performance techniques, and the piano is the highlight: its score is in 63 pages with 84 different forms of notation, and is a bauty to look at.

The Mode performance I heard is interesting, mostly because it seems to involve percussion sounds that I didn’t realize were called for in the score. I appreciate that each of the instruments in the performance can be heard easily. The music certainly has a chance-determined feel to it; the various wind instruments interact in a most distrubing way, screaming and squeaking at each other (often sounding like howling animals). The string sounds are less easy to hear, and seem to consist mostly of short, quick strokes and plucks. The piano is heard through tone cluster, individual tones and chords, and what sound like actions on the piano body itself. Overall, none of the tones are held very long, which is a significant difference between this and Cage’s later works involving large groups of instruments. Maybe the most exciting sound of all are the stranges, banshee-like noise produced by playing the strings inside the piano directly.

I’m still a little confused about the percussion and the voices I hear, maybe this is a combined performance and I didn’t realize it. At one point it sounds as if someone went and threw the piano down a flight of stairs!

Music for Piano No. 53-68
From 1956 comes another in the long series of Music for Piano. This is perhaps a bit more indeterminate than the others in the series, since the performer chooses how to produce the indicated sounds.

The performance is generally sparse, with ocassional use of the strings inside the piano. Single tones are heard, without clusters or chords. Their duration and the use of pedaling seems to vary a lot. No doub every performance of this work will sound different; for all I know, performers could choose to use chords and so on if they wished.

A Room for prepared piano
I heard this 1943 work some time ago in a version for piano. Now I’ll hear a prepared piano version. It’s pretty much the same before: a rumbling sound, this time well prepared, and miscellanous other unprepared notes sprinkled in. I’d say the preparations help the music, because it makes the low rumbling mush together and sound a bit more like an engine than it did before.

Eight Whiskus for violin
Supposedly this is a 1985 transliteration of the text of the vocal work into the language of the violin, trying to make the vowel and consonant sounds observable. I obviously can’t quote the lyrics based on the violin sounds, but it’s an interesting effort nonetheless. I can definitely hear all kinds of scrapings and somewhat percussive sounds. It sounds an awful lot like the Freeman Etudes but slightly more melodious. Still not something I’d want to spend a great deal of time listening to, though.

Four Solos for Voice
This work was written in 1988, and actually might be called solos for voice 93, 94, 95 and 96. There are overlapping time brackets and the source text is from random books in Cage’s own home library.

The performance is very peculiar, with opera-style singing, spoken word singing, and other styles. Some of the lyrics strike out at me, “You know, I live in three dimensions” for example. Right. They are in various languages, and some of the singing sounds more like wailing and crying. It’s pretty fun to listen to, just to hear some of the more off the wall texts sung in such a dramatic and interesting manner: “America the telegraph...”

This composition begun in 1983 was named after the rock garden in Japan, which Cage famously said was beautiful because the sand between the stones allowed the stones to exist and that the actual orientation of the stones was irrelevent. The music features solos for oboe, flute, contrabass, voice, and trombone with percussion (parts were added as the years went by). Each solo has 9 songs with retangles featuring tracings od stones; the curves are played. The percussion part features a metal and wood sound.

This performance, donated by Lothat, was evidently Cage’s favorite performance of the piece. Unfortunately it only includes the parts for bass and percussion (this is from the disc John Cage a Firenze), but it's also the only performance I have here that features the percussion (performers of this work have the odd habit of performing it on additional instruments, I might add). Anyway, it's mostly a low groaning sound, with a repetitive but fairly consistent percussive beat. It's not exactly consistant, but it's close enough. The groanings of the bass resemble a haunting of some kind, or perhaps the creaking of trees in a strong wind. I understand Cage's fondness for this performance. I think I definitely prefer the versions with percussion to the ones without; it gives the music a context.

In fact, I would go so far to say that performances without the percussion (or a similar orchestral accompaniment) miss the point entirely, providing the stones without the sand, so to speak.

In a Landscape for piano
I heard the harp version of this work from1948 and was a little dissatisfied, but the piano version comes off as very relaxing. Still, it seems like this music reminds me a little bit too much of tedious New Age piano music I hear in, say, elevators. Cage no doubt was inspired by Satie when he wrote this.

Th texture of the music is an awful lot like Dream, and it certainly feels dreamy. I think it's a bit more complicated though, with more surprises. For example, there is a familiar pattern of two notes that is repeated (although the tones change), yet the pattern is inturrupted sometimes by a three-note sequence. The overall feeling is restful and meditative, but with maybe a slightly ominous sense to the music, especially when it dips into the lower notes...

Friday, February 03, 2006



I noticed some notes from listening last weekend that I don’t think I ever posted. I’ll work them in after dinner I think. These are the two things I bought used back in December. I’m adding to it tonight’s listening, which pretty much finishes off all the number pieces!

Ah, little info is available for this; the liner notes are fairly cryptic and the website only specifies that it’s for trombone and string quartet, and was written in 1991. It features microtonal changes and very long-held tones.

In any case, this is an incredibly quiet performance. The trombone sometimes comes in more loudly than the strings, and the strings give their usual sense of being fluid, but placid (this is emphasized by their softness). The work is, however, a bit on the "generic" side as number pieces go: long-held tones with significant silences between them. One frustrating fact about it, though, is that most of the sounds seem so quiet that I cannot hear the minute variations that make such lengthy explorations of single tones interesting in the first place. Perhaps if I had a more silent listening enviorment I might enjoy it more.

This is among the last (the very last perhaps?) things Cage performed himself and I am reviewing the performance he put on at Summerstage. The year was 1992, as you might guess. There are four performers who choose 12 sounds, and in effect this is four performances of One7.

For some reason, in the introduction La Barbara calls it just “Four.” All the sounds chosen by Cage are vocal, whereas other performers use other instruments, including percussion and piano. Cage's voice is pretty distinctive and frankly pretty disgusting when he gurgles and chokes and gags intentionally. Even his more normal vocal sounds are more like barks. La Barbara concerns herself mostly with loud oubursts, not quite yells. The percussion instruments tend to be fairly quiet, with lots of rattling and rumbling. THe low rumbling sounds like a barrel being rolled, whereas the clicking and tapping could be nearly anything. A triangle sound also peeks in sometimes. It's an interesting little performance, but probably no other performances will sound like it.

This work was composed in 1990 for bass flute, clarinet and trombone, plus percussion, cello and contrabass. It’s one of Cage’s longer number pieces, stretching out for nearly an hour. The performance, overall, feels very stretched, almost as if a 20 minute performance were dragged out for a whole hour, just played more and more slowly. This might have been the effect Cage aimed for; in his choice of sound sources Cage chose low tones, and they do fit very easily into the background noise of my apartment.

The overall impression of the performance that I get is of a gently blowing wind that comes in, but does not really distract or disturb you. I guess you could call it “ambient,” but I usually associate the word with mind-numbingly dull and repetitive music (apologies to ambient fans out there). Comparing Seven2 with other Cage works I’ve heard, it seems among the most natural of all.

It’s very spacious, and I would like to distinguish between “spacious” and “sparse.” In sparse Cage music, there is a clear distinction between sounds and silence, but in a work such as this, they seem to blend together that if I am listening I sometimes don’t even notice the shift from one to the other.

As a final note, there’s a really cool percussion instrument used in this rendition; it sounds like a disembodied voice of some kind, or a ghost.

A work from 1991, Six is scored for percussionists on unspecified instruments. I actually saw the score; it looked as if it took 5 minutes to write. The performance instructions follow those typical of other late Cage works: play as if by brushing, single tones, flexible time brackets.

This particular performance seems to be mostly gongs of sorts, and some chimes and rattles. Actually, it makes me think I have heard it before! Maybe I am just recognizing it from Three? Or maybe I posted about it before and simply forgot. At any rate, these highly indeterminate pieces never excite me that much because I feel I am listening to the ingenuity of the performers and not to anything the composer really did. This is all fine in terms of listening and enjoying the performance (which is wistful and winter like), but there’s not much I can say about the performance that would say anything about Cage, which is the main goal of the project in the first place.

It would be fun to hear several performances of works like Six side by side.

Furniture Music Etc.
The title refers to the Satie piece which is a part of the performance. The score is quite indeterminate, specifying performance of parts of Satie’s Musique d’ameublement and Etcetera’s piano part. Materials, tempo, and so one are up to the performer.

I haven’t heard the Saties piece specifically before, but it seems rather slow and peaceful, but not particularly mystical. I’m actually having trouble distinguishing between the Satie and the Cage. In any case, the music isn’t much more than a mish-mash of attractive music, with different music popping in sometimes. It reminds me of a less insane Beatles performance I guess. There are often gaps between different pieces being performed, so it’s not so much a collage as a sequence. Not exactly a highlight of Cage’s oeuvre, though.

Variations III
The second-to-last work I will cover in the Variations series is as indeterminate as its predecessors, but not as, well, insane as later works in the series. In this work, the performer builds a score out of superimposed circles, although apparently there’s no need for this to be a sound performance in the first place.

This is a Hat Art performance featuring Ebhard Blum on flute and other objects, plus percussion. See my comments above for why commenting on these works does not strike me as that useful. I’m first struck by the amount of vocal sounds here, as well as by an insistent tapping that at first I thought was merely a copying error! There’s babbling, munching, and one sound that resembled the sound of a giant scorpion in an old video game I have, Other sounds like whistles and miscellaneous dings show up as well.

I feel that this is one of those works Cage wrote that is far more interesting to perform than here. In fact, I’m not even sure in what sense this is really a Cage performance, since although he made some circles, all of the decisions that result in an expression of sound are essentially up to the performer. Many of Cage’s most extreme works are like that, and it makes them much less interesting for this project (and, in my opinion, to listen to in general).

Wednesday, February 01, 2006



Tonight, I’ll tackle a few more items.  I think doing it in 90 minute pieces is pretty easy.  Will I finish by Sunday?  We’ll see...:-D

This work was written in 1991 and is a little unusual in that there are four performers, but they are not assigned to particular instruments.  Instead, during each time bracket, the performers may play rainsticks, the piano, a violin, or do nothing.  The piano music, incidentally, is the same Lullaby on which the obscure work for music box is based.  Everything is performed softly and slowly.  

As usual, the rainsticks sound vaguely like rain and perhaps a bit more like seeds falling slowly down a narrow tube ;-)  Nonetheless, the instrument is a great choice for a slow, quiet and peaceful work.  The rainsticks seem significantly more popular than any of the other sounds.  They are also conducive to the Cage idea of sounds being brushed into existence, as they start slowly, grow louder, and then fade.  The piano music sounds much as I expect Satie to sound in his more mystical moments, slow and meditative.  Satie and rainsticks complement each other nicely.  The violin is a little bit of a letdown, in a way, because the high C it is supposed to be playing does not feel very constant.  It also doesn’t show up much; I almost wish it had been a true oscillator, so that it would resemble a solid, unchanging tones around which the rest of the sounds could wrap themselves.  

Overall I’d rank this among my favorite Cage number pieces.  

Music for Piano 21-36
Didn’t I already listen to this?  It’s considered a single work along with Music for Piano 37-52.   I’ll hear it anyway since I don’t think I actually broke them up the first time through.  Do I even truly need an introduction here?  It’s another in Cage’s long line (85 long, I think) of chance-composed piano music; in this case, paper imperfections are involved.  

There’s not especially much (new) to say about this music, except that the number of non-keyboard (or at least non-string) events is pretty low.  This performance is also not as sparse as others I’ve heard, and the pedaling keeps most of the sound in the air longer.  It has a more ambient feel than some of the other performances in the Music for Piano series.  

This piece is from 1991, and after Twenty-Three and Twenty-Six, I half expected it to be scored for a big mass of violins.  But it’s not!  It’s only scored for a big mass of strings, plus timpani and percussion.  No violins though.  Also, the famous bowed piano of Fourteen fame.

This is an awesome performance; the timpani adds an enormous amount to the ominous energy that is pouring from my speakers.  The strings, all by themselves, are dissonant and terrifying, but the additional rumblings from the timpani make it additionally terrifying.  This music doesn’t feel as natural as most of the other number piece, instead it seems very industrial?  In it I seem to hear the loud humming of machines and rushing and grinding of motors and gears.  Excellent!  Cage uses the large number of instruments at his disposal to great effect here, and the sound is overwhelming.  Special mention goes to the bowed piano.  While it’s not as prominent here as in Fourteen (probably because there’s such a wall of sound), it has that same terrifying power to it and you can hear it distinctly.  

Four3 was peaceful, but this listening experience is intense and raises the hair on the back of my neck.  Wow.  



Tonight I am following an inspiration.  A friend and I have been reading Joyce’s Ulysses to each other every Friday at midnight for an hour.  We will a long time.  But Cage was also a Joyce fan, and tonight I’ll hear his major Joyce-inspired work.

Roaratorio: An Irish Circus on Finnegan’s Wake
We can think of this work as a specific realization of ____: __ ______ Circus on _________.  Although this is a circus of simultaneous events, I feel this is far, far more suited to recording than any of the others, because there is no visual element.  Instead, the performance features a collage of Irish music, sounds mentioned in Finnegan’s Wake (and sounds from places that are mentioned), and Cage reading Writing for the Second Time Through Finnegan’s Wake, which if I recall right was one long chance-determined mesostic.  The same basic idea can presumably be applied to any other book, and probably to many other contexts.  For example, I would be entertained by an American Circus on Zac’s Archived E-Mail :-)

In listening to this performance, it’s hard to pick out specific sounds, with the exception of Cage’s tireless voice with its most peculiar pronunciations of certain words (non-words?).  The Irish music comes in a number of different forms, including drumming that seems to continue forever, some instrumental dance music, and a singer.  The other taped sounds give the impression at many points of standing in some old world market, with chickens squawking, lots of child and crowd noises, and so on.     Other things I hear are babies crying, various whistles, birdsong, running water, bells, enormous variety, with perhaps a surprising emphasis on the water (I guess unlike a lot of other natural events, rivers and streams and oceans are almost always described by their sounds.  

The performance extends for a bout an hour, without any significant changes or variation in style.  After awhile, it seems as if the sounds all just sort of meld together in my mind.  The only exception is when sometimes the tape and music get quiet together, and Cage’s voice comes to the forefront.  As I listen, I wonder how different the performance might be had the text used for it been, you know, a little more normal!

I’m surprised I haven’t covered this one before.  It’s an early 1935 work for percussion.  Is this not Cage’s very first work for percussion, too? In any case, I believe it’s one of his longer non-prepared piano percussion works.  None of the instruments are specified and vary throughout the movements.

The first section is titled Moderate and, unsurprisingly, proceeds at a moderate pace.  The instruments sound to be metallic, hit with a wooden mallet.  There is also a bell.  The rhythm is followed primarily by the hammers, with the bell interjecting itself occasionally, with some minor variations in tone (usually the same tone is repeated several times).  It’s an attractive, quick work, and it doesn’t have the sudden starts and stops that I associate with Cage’s prepared piano dance music.

The Very Slow movement does not strike me as especially slow, and features some sort of loud, very resonant sound (almost like big fat horn) and a ‘ding’ item which might be a triangle.  Its rhythm is less identifiable than the Moderate section, and it varies in speed more often.  Some section are very slow, and the instruments do not sound simultaneously, although there is no easily discernable pattern in their soundings.  

Next comes a section called “Axial Symmetry,” suggesting that I should be hearing sounds in two halves that are somehow symmetric in their performance.  I’m not sure where the axis is supposed to lie, though.   I can’t precisely hear anything that sounds too different from the rhythm of the Moderate movement.  The instruments are some low toned drums and some sort of metallic instrument, maybe a simple tube.  The tube vanishes for awhile about halfway through.  

The Fast section sounds a lot like other Cage percussion works, especially, I think, parts of the Constructions, and sections from The City Wears a Slouch Hat and Trio.  The instruments sound a lot like the forks and cans and such he used often in those works; they are not instantly identifiable to me.  Anyway, the tempo is not as fast as I might have expected, but it’s certainly speedier than the others.  Somehow, because the instruments are nondescript, it doesn’t seem as interesting as the others.  

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