Friday, November 10, 2006



As I type, I am sitting outside my house in Alabama, enjoying this new OgreOgress recording Glenn was kind enough to send me recently.  I apologize for not updating lately—Reviewing the books was much more challenging than reviewing the music (with the music, I can listen and write immediate reactions; with the books I had to re-read multiple times to remember enough!).  

This blog is not exactly conducive to a CD review because I am organized by piece of music.  As a result, I will talk about everything but Two3 up here, and talk about Two3 below.  This recording of Inlets is a better listen than the previously recorded version by Hêlios, simply because the balancing makes every detail of the bubbling conch shells audible, as is that wonderful snapping and flaming noise associated with the burning pinecone.  The conch-shell horn seems to fit in much better this way.  I think Inlets is one of my favorite Cage works.  It seems just so very natural, or “imitative of nature in its manner of operation” as I think Cage said music ought to be.

Two4 has never been my favorite Cage work, as I think I have something against the solo strings (although I do like the near competition between the sho sound and the violin sound when they play simultaneously).  I should probably review the version for violin and piano sometime.  

This is the first solo recording of this music, which is for sho and conch shells.  The shells are filled with water, and in typical Cage fashion they are tipped to produce sound, or not, as they are indeterminate in their sound-producing ability.  The sho is the Japanese wind instrument featured previously in a discussion of Two4.  This is the first time Two3 has been recorded as such.  One9 is the same work, minus the conch sells, and has been recorded in combination with 108 and in a transcription(?) for accordion.  

The recording I am hearing is a complete performance of the entire work, and thus it continues for two full hours, with no particular change or drama or conclusion.  It just continues until it doesn’t continue anymore.  I prefer that phrase to saying it “stops,” simply because the latter word implies some sort of finality, whereas hear you feel the potential for the music to continue forever (especially if you have been listening for two hours already...) but it doesn’t.  

The sound of the sho is all in the treble range, but it is not especially loud.  The conch shells, well, they are barely there.  In the first half hour I heard about four different blurp noises.  This makes the conch sounds more surprising when they do occur, almost like a shock.  On the first one, I actually jumped.  However, an advantage of the low presence of shell noises is that I can load up my sound editor, delete all the conch shells, and save it as a new set of files called One9 :-) At least until someone records One9 on its own, anyway...  

The overall texture is not exactly sparse, because when sound events do occur they are not as  brief as the events in any of the time-bracket piano works.  The sho distinguishes itself from the strings and brass involved in number pieces by having little or no intensity or power—The horns and violins and whatnot seem to have a strength to them that demands your attention, whereas I find the sho to be more ethereal and not particularly concerned with whether I listen to it or not.  This ties in with my perception of the piece not ever seeming to have a stopping point.  

108 uses 3 of 10 movements from One9 so one hears less than one third of One9 when listening to 108.
this is a really great disc.
i listened through the entire disc the other night while preparing a lecture on cage's early music.

i think i like the conch parts in the helios version of Inlets better. it sounds like glenn got too familiar with the conch shells on this recording, creating a constant bubbling texture. i think i like the sparser more surprising conch bubbling. i like glenn's conch horn better than the helios. it mixes in well with everything else and isnt a huge surprise when it comes in. and i think i like the helios recording of the burning pinecones. more vigorous if i remember correctly.

two3 and two4 are sublime. great stuff.
good work on this disc glenn, glad to finally hear it.
in terms of the number of bubbles, each performance will be different ... if you have a preference, you are prefering one chance over another chance. i have no preference over any version that follows cage's clear rules ... i assume helios followed the rules as well.

so, you can blame the conch shells themselves on your prefernces, not me or helios ... the bubbles came when they decided to come ... i had no control over when they came, and want no control over it. i had no agenda or plan for how the piece would turn out. i simply followed the rules and heard the result. yes, i learned how to play the conch shells very well and came to understand their nature, bit it had nothing to do with the sound of the piece.
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