Thursday, March 16, 2006


Dance/4 Orchestras

OK, OK, so my last entry was like 4 weeks ago or something.  The real world got the better of me!  But here’s a few gaps to be filled in tonight.  There still remains just a few items I had forgotten about, plus reviews of two upcoming discs: Chess Pieces and Works for Percussion 4, featuring 4 Dances.  

Dance/4 Orchestras
This is a case of a mysterious file I have but whose origin I cannot remember!  Probably it is a re-encoded version of the Real media file available on the Internet.  I’m a little bit surprised how much I like it!  It was written in 1982 and uses a time bracket notation.  Four orchestras are separated around the performance area, so there is a spatial element to the music that the recording does not represent.  What is most striking is the forceful nature of the music; the instruments seem to play uniformly short notes, and the notes are almost always played simultaneously with other instruments, so there is a forceful, chugging sense to the music.  That’s pretty rare in Cage’s other number works; this music is quite stormy!  The only thing that would make it better is actually being surrounded by the orchestras and hearing them from different locations.  

Party Pieces
This is music for nonspecific instrumentation that Cage wrote in collaboration with Lou Harrison and Virgil Thomson.  If you wanted to stretch things you could claim it’s an early exercise in indeterminacy, since each composer would write a bar of music without seeing what the previous person had written save for two notes.  This performance is, I imagine, based on the instrumentation by Robert Hughues although I thought the LP was written before...but perhaps not since apparently the premiere was in 1982!

In this instrumentation, each section (there are 21) is played with a different set of instruments.  In general, each part is very short and follows the tempo markings.  Movements that stick out in my mind are #5, “Slowly yet flowing,” and #6, “Flowing broad,” both of which have a nice pastoral feel, along with #8, “Majestic-broad.” I would say most of the music is more typical of Thompson and Cowell than of Cage; none of Cage’s serial-ish experiments or rhythmic structures are heard.  

Lecture on the Weather
This and the previous were generous donations from Andre.  It was written in 1975 for voices and tapes in three parts.  It begins with a boring reading of Cage’s preface where Cage expresses his typically uninteresting (IMO, of course) political views, and also discusses Thoreau.  The work itself has three parts.  In all parts, the performers read text from David Thoreau, sing, or play instruments (though everyone in this recording seems to read).  Some are pretty histrionic in their reading, and that offers a bit of comedy.  Most of it is unintelligible, due to the crowded situation.  I think the work is best appreciated without trying to focus in on any voice, and just listen to the babbling.  

Each of the three parts features different background sounds: first wind, then rain, and then thunder.  In the last part a film featuring projected negatives of Thoreau’s artwork.  The wind is not that easy to hear because it’s a little tough to distinguish it from a thunder sound, or random microphone breathing noises.  I think the rain is a little more distinctive, but it’s still hard to hear since the sound seems a lot lower than the voices.  The thunder, finally, is quite obvious (as you might expect).  I can’t help imagining these text-reciting people standing around outside in a thunderstorm.  I think the projected images, probably unrecognizable in negative, would add a lot to the atmosphere of thunder and voices.  

Haikai for Gamelan
This was a work written in 1986 for the Evergreen Club, and they recorded it something like 12 years later.  I guess they were not in a big hurry!  It’s for a gamelan, but I don’t quite recall which variety of gamelan it is.  But to be blunt, it doesn’t matter much.  To my ears gamelan music sounds distinctive primarily by the style in which it is played (there’s some great recording samples online worth checking out).  However, with Cage’s generall brief and quiet tones, it’s hard to tell much of a difference between the gamelan ensemble and any other group of instruments, especially most of the percussive sounds.  It has a feel similar to that of the later number pieces, but I don’t think it uses time brackets; each of the eight Haiku has seventeen events, with varying durations, and essentially the different parts cannot be distinguished.  
I feel like this gamelan ensemble is best suited to loud, raucous music rather than the very slight performance that Cage has written for them.

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