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).

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