I set the alarm to get up an hour early (5 am) so I can do some studying and then pack for a trip to Corning NY. Supposedly.
So what am I really doing? I am ripping a gift for my host, a John Cage CD of the 1958 quarter century Cage retrospective concert, a CD I found while browsing the Performing Arts Library last week at Lincoln Center (there to look for a Badfinger CD that I became obsessed with after hearing their banal soft-rock "Day After Day" playing over and over on the store PA system at Home Depot by the Flatiron Building on 23rd Street).
It doesn't get more "Cage-y" than on CD 1 where a ‘song’ called The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs (1942), nominally a soprano / piano duet, consists of a woman singing a paragraph from Ullyses (Joyce) while the piano player accompanies her by rapping his knuckles on various parts of the wood piano superstructure. It's just two minutes long at at the end, thunderous applause from the Town Hall audience, a 1958 crowd packed with his knowing peers, which being 1958 New York, includes not only his buddy Merce Cunningham, but apparently several nascent painting movements. Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Willem DeKooning are seen in the photos of the hall. The painters are wearing khakis and that ubiquitous 1950s bright white dress shirt.
The legacy this small group would leave is remarkable. It could seem a little depressing to consider that a couple dozen NY artists, an insider’s gang, would go on to dominate the next few decades so much, but it is really liberating when you consider their DIY boldness and lack of legacy connections. They were outsiders, here to make a go of it, sticking together out of psychological neccesity. There's nothing to say a band of tiny nobodies couldn't still do the same. The message to us today: "Go for it!"
Anyway, back to Cage. The rest of the concert included a six minute symphony of found sounds recorded to reel to reel tape and then cut with razors and reassembled (presumably with 'scotch tape' holding the fragments onto a new blank tape as backing). 'Sheet Music' for Williams Mix (1952) shown below:
Here is the sound file to accompany the above sheet music, "Williams Mix (1952) ". After the symphonic tape loop finishes listen to his friends cheering enthusiastically.
Finally, maybe the most often-heard, and to me most enjoyable music here, are the Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano. (File link to download one MP3 of this below.
Sorry -- my Typepad page will probably take over 5 minutes to download if you right click and then 'Save As' the file link). The pieces for prepared piano were supposed to reflect some Hindu concepts which Cage had been exposed to when he "... began living at the East River and first became seriously aware of Oriental philosophy" especially Ananda Coomaraswamy. The sheet music for the Sonatas includes instructions on where to jam rubber erasers and sheet metal screws between the piano strings.
Cage notes that with the music for prepared piano he was trying to depict the eight permanent emotions of Indian Philosophy: the heroic, the erotic, the wondrous, the mirthful, sorrow, fear, anger, the odious, and their common tendency toward tranquility. It is tempting to assign one of these emotions to each of the short sonatas. If you listen to the download, I would be curious to hear which of the eight emotions you feel it represents.
If you are a fan of this Cage music you may be interested to see a list of the required listening for a course in post-1960s music taught at M.I.T..
To this already lengthy post, I have appended, from Rolf W Stoll's voluminous liner notes the following annotation for the sheet music (vida supra) accompanying Williams Mix:
This is the fifth page of the Williams Mix. It is a full-size drawing of 8 tracks of ¼ inch magnetic tape running at 15 inches per second. It is intended as a pattern for the cutting and splicing of tape-recorded sounds. These sounds are catalogued as A city sounds, B country sounds, C electronic sounds, D manually produced sounds.
They are further catalogued tin terms of pitch, timbre and loudness. When one of these has been controlled or is known, a “c” designates this; absence of control or predictability is designated by a “v”. …
The categories overlap,. For example, the sound of laughter might be catalogued A, B, or E. Nevertheless, the system served to establish a library. Any other set of sounds, answering the same designations, could be used to make another Williams Mix.
The composing means employed chance operations derived from the I-Ching Chinese Book of Changes. These means, as they pertain to two earlier works, Music of Changes, and Landscape for 12 Radios, are described in detail in trans/formation. Briefly, three coins tossed six times give one or two numbers from 1 to 64. Separate charts were made having 64 elements, one to determine the rhythmic structure [11 times 46 divided 5, 6, 16, 3, 11, 5] another to determine factors which shortened or lengthened the structural parts, 16 for sounds and silences, 16 for durations, 16 for attack and decay of sounds.