JC4, w/2 44s (John Cage Four, With Two Four4s)

JOHN CAGE – Four4

In case it wasn’t noticed, the review’s title alludes to Phill Niblock. Now, that is silence. (“Oh, stop that Massimo, will you please?”)
Alright then. A year before dying, John Cage wrote “Four4” for a quartet of percussionists, leaving to them the choice of the specific instruments. Without rehashing the “time bracket” grounds upon which the piece is founded – plenty of literature exists on the subject, and I’m not adding further blah-blah – let’s just say that this and other compositions of his late period are probably the ones that better gratify the need of balance of hush and sound we yearn for. This version, featuring a level-headed reading by Simon Allen, Chris Burn, Lee Patterson and Mark Wastell, is centred on a well-definite contrast between the timbres of the utilized sources; even if the latter are left unspecified, a tam-tam or a set of cymbals cannot be mistaken for anything else, and for my own taste the sections in which the gong wraps the whole room with its tremendous murmur are those that make me grind to a standstill. One remains instead slightly deluded when extended quietness is ruptured by harsher, or plain insignificant textures – there’s a moment somewhere in which I envisioned the presence of an espresso machine. However, these 74-plus minutes comprise enthralling reverberation to spare, halfway through Wastell’s Vibra series and Organum’s mantric abrasiveness. Still, it’s in loneliness – soft as a whisper and in total stillness – that this CD becomes a veritable treat, the perfect match to the inside pumping of your heartbeat. On the contrary, by paying more attention to certain choices the urge of honking “I wouldn’t have used this and that here and there” marches forward, prior to realizing that the inherent ignorance that everybody possesses in enormous doses – the concealing of which social life revolves around – is having the upper hand. (Another Timbre)

JOHN CAGE – Three2 / Twenty-Three / Six / Twenty-Six

Three pieces from 1991 and one from 1988, performed by Christina Fong (violin and viola), Glenn Freeman (percussion) and Karen Krummel (cello). It is interesting to note that the nice people at OgreOgress are converting a perpetual Cage sceptic in a respectful admirer of his late work, scrupulously studied and recorded for the first time by the members of this activist collective. It is also good that this CD doesn’t contain liners that might deviate the attention from what really counts, namely how things sound. In fact, moments of absolute ecstasy abound in this disc.
The favoured is “Twenty-Three”, which explains this writer’s predilection of wisely layered continuous tones (in this case, coming from Fong and Krummel’s strings) as opposed to inane shortage of action. Stationary only in appearance yet constantly moving, several kinds of acoustic colour materialize in a few seconds, vanishing a moment later, revealing a droning spirit that will be treasured by the adherents to the “all-we-need-is-trance” cult. This rendition involuntarily highlights the lack of backbone that the large part of Cage-inspired composers of today show in scores that totally miss the point in terms of organization of events and related aural results, despite decades spent studying the subject. Let’s just say that this music vibrates and lives, its magnificence radiating well beyond intellectual declarations, gratuitous quotes from ancient Chinese sages and conceptual frames that give birth to half-hours inhabited by one-pitch bowing, whistling triviality or dropped cereals, highly praised stuff in certain circles. Identical enthusiasm derives from listening to “Twenty-Six”, Fong’s violins superimposed to construct a textural pseudo-stasis where clusters of intoxicating hues dance in the air, recalling a couple of minimalist masters in the process. The shorter “Three2” and “Six” feature Freeman’s alone, generating impressions between “disquietingly ritual” and “hopelessly insoluble” through instruments like wind chimes, gongs, cymbals and others that I can’t name, manipulated with appreciable awareness and faultless timing. It takes a special type of ear to perceive a potential psychological impact even in apparently normal gestures.
We maliciously wonder if Cage would have ever imagined such depth when these ideas started to gather, or if he could vaguely foretell the outcome produced by musicians at this level (or the damage caused by inferiors hiding behind those theories). Our guess is no. On the other hand, approaching the departure gate probably made him envision compositional combinations that critically committed interpreters are capable of turning into a cosmos of crucial signals and almost dolorous echoes. (OgreOgress)

JOHN CAGE – Four4

This adaptation was solely implemented by Glenn Freeman; the details of the percussion arsenal are left unspecified, even if “classic” timbres (cymbals, tympani) repeatedly emerge from silence together with the ones who generate circles of light (such as Tibetan bowls and Chinese gongs) or more “concrete” voices (crotales, for example). The differences with the above reviewed Another Timbre’s quartet version are quite conspicuous. Freeman seems interested in spurts – stretched or less – rather than focusing on comprehensive reverberation and exploitation of the resonant qualities of the environment. Indeed he often manages to surprise us by bringing out sudden materializations of “soft violence”, soon ceased to revisit quieter places. Let’s not forget the chance meetings of events determined by the time brackets, of course. Though moments of contemplation are not missing – the entrance of a delicately hammered gong about 19 minutes in after a long stillness is a most enthralling moment – there’s a wider distinction between the instrumental gradations. The alternance of the frequency range is evident, too: low, medium, high, low again and so on, occasionally running parallel. Despite these apparent discrepancies and the somewhat expanded palette, this rendition maintains the spiritual traits well visible. It also shares the prerequisite of a peaceful listening setting, in order to exercise our perceptual faculties without necessarily establishing what is being played and speculating on other ins and outs. That’s wholly useless when all we need is putting ourselves in the right frame of mind, receiving these sonic stimuli as means to increase corporeal non-belonging. (OgreOgress)

JOHN CAGE – 108 / 109 / 110

Cage’s perceptions for a larger ensemble (in this occasion Chance Philharmonic, 11 members including Fong, Krummel and Freeman, the instrumentation comprising strings, percussion, horns, reeds and brass) constitute a fascinating proposition after having prepared myself with the previous trio of releases. A triptych on audio DVD, each chapter lasting 43 minutes and 30 seconds in an obvious reference. If the implied maths were understood correctly by this reluctant student, the second and the third versions are the same score that opens the program (“108”) augmented by other “number pieces”, namely “One8” (for cello) and “Two3” (for shō and conch shells) and thus becoming, respectively, a concerto and a double concerto. We’re told that Cage notated “108” with severe accuracy, to the point of indicating fingers and strings to be utilized in particular circumstances; as George Adams recalls in his meticulous liners, he thought that this music was the “most interesting to listen to” of everything written to that moment, and that it was composed “in the way that I want it to be heard”. Whatever. In any case, too many arithmetical complications and notable quotes threaten the matter-of-factness of the principal query, specifically “what is the aesthetical and artistic value of this material”? Let me answer with the explanation of how the recordings were approached here. The long-lastingness excludes, almost surely, a non-stop listening session unless one’s a hermitic single. So it was decided that this would be the soundtrack of the whole second half of a Saturday – open windows and chanting birds as a complement to begin with, thanks to a superb sunny weather – until about 10 PM, the disc repeating its cycle three times with only a short interruption for nourishing purposes. What transpired is a series of important annotations. Firstly, this might be the most evocative substance ever conceived by Cage: endowed with sober pathos and a fair degree of uncertainty and cloudiness, with the welcome addition of an absolute unwillingness to wink to the listener. It’s quite elegant and intelligible, mostly based on widely extended notes and handsomely dissonant chords spontaneously born from the instrumental stratifications. It breathes and lets breathe while opening the acoustic perspective, devoid as it is of the obligation of focusing on structural designs or technical dissertations. It is also startling, especially when the lengthy pauses are broken by the return of significant combinations and semi-inert hesitancies that refurbish an unperturbed attention. Still, it can keep good company to calmness for hours, never taxing the ears. Comparing it to something else is problematic; the sense of timelessness that it transmits is precious. Just contrapuntal waves and diverse shades, to be surrounded by without forgetting our transience. The engenderer of the preliminary concept was probably getting near the truth: that is to say, sounds don’t need a rational justification to carry out their enhancing job in a being organized to collect them as a reward. (OgreOgress)

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