Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Silence, Part 1

I have decided maybe a fun way to expand this blog would be to cover other aspect’s of Cage’s work, so I am going to begin offering my comments on his entire written output.  I’ll be taking a more or less direct route, beginning with the contents of Silence and moving forward in time (in terms of publication, anyway).  I get a little bit confused as to the ordering after M, but it will be quite awhile before I get there so I’m sure I will get clarification before then.  Off the top of my head, the books beyond M are X, I-VI, Empty Words, and a few others I see referenced but whose contents I am uncertain of.  There is also a collection of unpublished Cage out there that I had a copy of once, but I have forgotten the title :-/

My guess is that this may take as much as a year to do; I am busy so I am not going to be posting every day.  But let’s get started:

The Future of Music: Credo

This is a text given as a lecture in 1937.  It is interesting to look back on it and see what Cage “prophesies” were correct and which were not.  The form is a capitalized parageaph interspersed with explanations as particular terms—noise, music, etc. arise.  Cage describes the new opportunities for sound exploration allowed by electronic manipulation of recordings.

First off, I agree heartily with his criticism of performers of electronic instruments of his day; I hear many theremin performances that sound just like a glorified violin.  I wonder if Cage had any experience or interaction with the Futurists in Europe at about this time, with their noise boxes.  I know very little about them, but I wonder if this particular text was written as a result of their influence on Cage.  

I like his reference to the “portrait of Beethoven repeated 50 times a second” producing a particular sound.  It reminds me of a fairly recent track by the electronic musician Aphex Twin, in which he apparently created a waveform that looks like his face when displayed.  Still, I don’t think Cage would find much of the pop electronic music available today to be interesting, because they still rely heavily on some pretty basic rhythms, and they tend to be so repetitive that they don’t hold my interest for long.  

With respect to the 12-tone system, I did not realize it was intended as being “analogous to a society in which the emphasis is on the group...”  I always thought it was a way of democratizing the sound field, or making each tone equally important on its own.  I also don’t feel that percussion music has taken off as Cage predicted, although my view is limited.  I went to a concert of the percussion ensemble here at Virginia Tech, and most of the compositions were completely obscure and had never been recorded (which is the basic measure of the popularity of music these days).  

I think the most basic thing Cage missed in his prophesy of the future was the complete dominance of the music recording.  I know the idea of, for example, an opera repertory did not exist until pretty recently (no one wanted to hear the old stuff), and I think recordings are partially to blame for the decline of interest in new music—Why take a chance on something new when you can listen to great things made before?   It doesn’t help that the new music can be quite challenging to someone who is used to clear, determinant forms, hum-able melodies and tap-able rhythms.  

Indeterminacy Stories
Cage’s quick little stories are always charming, especially those from his childhood, as they usually are about events anyone can relate to.  This set also features a tounge-in-cheek take on Zen enlightenment as a means to avoid suicide.  

The story I’d like to highlight is one in which Cage is embarrassed at hearing a crappy opera performance at someone’s house, in spite of his willingness to admit noises and other non-idealities into performances.  If a truck outside is not an interruption to a piano piece, why is a bad performance an interruption?  Or maybe it is only music that was intended to be open to outside sounds that should be considered not interrupted by those sounds?   Perhaps in Cage’s view music should be performed the way it was intended to be performed, so a truck passing by in a symphony would be no good, much as Cage could get very upset when performers failed to follow the instructions in his music.    

As a side note, I used to hate Glenn Gould’s humming and his squeaky chair in many of his recordings.  Now I like it, and that might be a Cagean influence on me.  

Sunday, June 18, 2006


Cage, Mode, Stockhausen,&c

So Mode is apparently planning several more saxophone discs.  I’m not sure there is any Cage saxophone music left to record.  Will these be transcriptions, or maybe recordings of all the open-instrumentation works.  It should be interesting, in any case.  Reviews of the latest recordings coming soon-ish.

Sometime soon I should have a job, and my first vacation will probably be a pilgrimage to New Yok City, to visit a friend in school there and also to visit the enormous Cage collection at the library.  I would like to find references to some of the poorly documented works out there, so I can add those to this site, even though they wil not, strictly speaking, be reviews of listening experiences. could use a Cage page.  I wrote one three years ago but never submitted it; maybe I will revise it and send it in.  I swear they chose the photo of Cage that makes him look the most like a mad scientist.  Also, they have a little star by “songs” under Cage’s name.  Surely they don’t mean At East and Ingredients!  Maybe Song Books...which is one of several pieces I never heard due o its unavailability.  But even Stockhausen has a page on that site, and Cage’s lack of one seems unfair.    

Speaking of our German friend, I am contemplating a Stockhausen blog. I figure it would be on a different site, with a different but still boring color scheme.  There are pros and cons to such a plan:
  1. All his works are on recordings order-able from the same place

  2. I like electronic music and he’s got an enormous amount of it

  3. He’s alive, so I can imagine someone mentioning my blog to him, and him saying “Hmm” in a disinterested manner.  This would make me smile.  
  1. His catalog is pretty damned confusing.  I don’t know if I want to hear an opera recording, and then also a whole bunch of parts of the opera too.

  2. The prices are absolutely insane.

I figure I could buy all 80 CD’s for somewhere around $3000.  Once I am earning an income again, I figure I can just quit eating and/or live in my car until I save that up.  

This sort of medium is great for recent composers, because they didn’t write all that much music compared to the older guys, and almost every work is very unique.  Imagine, say, a Haydn blog.  Once you got to the 80th baryton trio, what will you have left to say?

Now I’m going to go find out if anyone has a Haydn blog.  Goodnight!

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