Wednesday, February 01, 2006



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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