Monday, 1 April 2013

Listening: John Cage

Reading two books on Cage presently so have been playing as much of his music through the stereo as possible. He is not at all conducive to portable headphone listening. Not always conducive to the strict demands of the home stereo either but there's been sufficient time and place to hear the following:


John Cage: Perilous Night and Four Walls, Margaret Leng Tan

Perilous Night is, as the title hints at, rather rackety, while Four Walls, apparently depicting Cage's fraught emotional state before settling down with Merce, is gloomy, with less use of vocals than I expected. Typically with Cage moods are hardly straightforward and 'gloomy' is quite freely drawn. An old Harold Moores relic, pleasantly listened through from start to finish.

John Cage: Early Piano Music, Herbert Henck

Bought cheap off the HMR rep, restricted to playing The Seasons and In A Landscape, the latter more for comparison with Lubimov's version below. Ophelia which follows provides a shocking contrast and is far from Cage-does-Satie.

Alexei Lubimov: Der Bote

A home stereo staple from Wesley Classics, bought for In A Landscape which is how I always hear it.

John Cage by Zeitkratzer

Promo and features great sustained droning chamber orchestra performances. Only listened to in part.

John Cage: Thirteen

HMR relic sans case (stolen), features two versions of Thirteen, like the above but even better. Again played only in part.

John Cage: Short Pieces for Prepared Piano

I love the sound of the prepared piano. DLed recently, burnt to CD and heard only in small part.

Victoria Looseleaf: Harpnosis

DLed and burnt to CD, now a home staple. Cage's In A Landscape sits comfortably alongside Satie's Gymnopedies (of course), Claire de Lune and Pachelbel's Canon, all played on harp. Featured on this blog before and just read that a sequel Beyond Harpnosis is available, on casette only but the original you'll find easily on the web and in fine shape.

All these In A Landscape's have prompted me to try and play it on the piano, which is proceeding slowly. Not very difficult but long, and my reading is crap. I first heard the piece on a Mini Disk given me in Japan by Velvet Hands, in the pre-download MD trading days, and was a sucker immediately. It was aural balm between all the Autechre and Skam discoveries.


John Cage Shock

Doubtless these sound and look great on vinyl but music is lost on mp3 through headphones. Not quite all, there's some delightful and very live setting recordings here, where the novelty and 'shock' does translate and is audible, but the grubbiness and chaotic sense of space is poorly suited to commute listening. I ought to whack it through the mixer and hear it proper like but time and energy will prevent it. Good review in The Wire and elsewhere.

Music For Merce

Mammoth set of recordings by mostly Cage associates but again, plenty of haze and fluff and misses the extensive notes, images, packaging etc. that came with the proper release. Great Wire review for this too and worth spending much time with, but not on headphones commuting.

John Cage: Ryoanji

Odd music this, defined by a repeated percussive bang which persists throughout, around which other elements dart about, very Japanese-like. Very interesting and the restricted tonal palette works just fine through headphones. Fourteen appears on the Zeitkratzer CD and not yet played Ten.

John Cage: 12‘55.6078

Wonderful box set this, 12 CDs covering the Donaueschingen Festival - 75 Years: 1921-1996, picked up gratis sans cases. A regular Dead and Alive staple, I played this early recording on the portable digital device, a piece for piano and trinkets (?) filled with humorous whirrs and pings, with good input from audience in the form of laughter and jovial heckling, which Cage doubtless enjoyed. The old recording does no wonders but the mirth is palpable.

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