Saturday, 17 September 2011

John Cage Night @ Queen Elisabeth Hall 9/13/2011

Words + photos: Gian Paolo Galasi (photos from an exhibition about Cage at O', Milan, 06/27/11)

Unluckily I had the possibility to enter the venue only after 4' 33", Cage's first piece to be performed tonight, was finished. Just the previous Saturday at the Southbank Centre I had the opportunity to see the exhibition Every Day is a Good Day, curated by Hayward Touring in collaboration with BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and the John Cage Trust.

Cage himself was explaining from one of the videos that the meaning of that 'silence' piece - he was showing the scores to the camera - is related to 'experiencing a change of the mind ... if you listen for four minutes to silence when you were supposed to listening to music, that means that you are experiencing the uncertainties of the future'. Far away from anguishes, the effect Cage wanted to reach is the one of self-liberation from preconceived frames.

This is also the reason of his involvement with Zen, I-Ching, chances operations. Odd as it can seem, hearing how a cactus would sound - as we did in Queen Elisabeth Hall - is, for Cage, a matter of experiencing freedom. That's probably what the Apartment House ensemble would think of. 

The ensemble, that just few days before, on Sept. 8, performed Yannis Kiryakides Atopia and Phil Niblock Five More String Quartet at the Oxford Playhouse, is a pioneering ensemble devoted to contemporary and experimental music behind the boundaries - performing regularly works by composers as diverse as George Maciunias, Cornelius Cardew, Anthony Braxton, Karlheinz Stockhausen and many others. On Tuesday 15 they performed a repertoire featuring also Radio Music for 8 performers, Child of the tree for solo percussion, Concert for piano and orchestra/Fontana mix, String Quartet in four parts, Music for nine, spanning from 1948 to 1966.

Radio Music is a work composed using chance operations. The 8 parts indicate between 26 (part E) and 64 (parts C and G) different frequencies between 55 and 156 kHz, notated using numbers (and not using conventional staves, like in Imaginary Landscape No.4). Lines indicate silences, "expressed by maximum amplitude". The number of silences varies between parts: from 9 in part D to 27 in part G. Cage mentions that every part is in 4 sections, with or without silences between them, to be programmed by the player(s). The published score consists of a title page and 10 typed leaves containing 8 parts (parts C and G 2 pages each).

Child of the tree is a composition for found instruments, using the I Ching to determine the number of instruments, order, and length of performance. Being on a tour in Arizona with the Cunningham Dance Company in 1975, one of dancers (Charles Moulton) brought a dried cactus to Cage, placed it near his ear and plucked the spines of it. This inspired Cage to use cacti as musical instruments.

The score consists solely of performance instructions on how to select 10 instruments, using I-Ching chance operations. All instruments should be made of plant materials, or be just the plant materials themselves (e.g. leaves from trees, branches etc.). One of the instruments should be a pod (rattle) from a poinciana tree, which grow in Mexico.

"Using a stopwatch, the soloist improvises clarifying the time structure by means of the instruments. This improvisation is the performance". is based off of chance and aleatoric principles.

The Concert for Piano and Orchestra has no overall score, but all parts are written in detail. A performance of the Concert may include all of the instruments, but also can be performed as a solo, duet, trio or any combination of the given instruments. The notation of all orchestral parts uses a system where space is relative to time. The amount of time is determined by the musician and later, during the performance, altered by the conductor who has his or her own part and acts like a living chronometer.

Notes are of 3 sizes. This may refer to duration or amplitude or both, the interpretation being determined by the performer. All of these solos involve as many playing techniques as possible. The part for pianist is an aggregate of 84 different kinds of notations, written on 63 pages and composed using 84 different compositional techniques. The pianist may play the material in whole or in part, choosing any notations, elements or parts and playing them in any order. The composing means involved chance operations, as well as the observation of imperfections in the paper upon which the music was written.

The String Quartet consists of four movements: Quietly flowing along - Slowly rocking - Nearly stationary - Quodlibet. Like the Sonatas and Interludes it deals with the Indian notion of the nine permanent emotions (more information on this subject can be read under Sonatas and Interludes), as well as about the Indian notion of the seasons, creation, preservation, destruction and quiescence. In the first movement the subject is Summer in France, in the second it is Fall in America. The third movement is about Winter and the fourth about Spring as a quodlibet.

The work uses gamuts of sound, as in most of his compositions from this period. The collection of sonorities in this work is relatively small and they are not transposed, fragmented or arpeggiated. The strings are played without vibrato and those to be used for the tone production are specified.

Music for (Nine) was concieved as seventeen parts for voice and instruments without overall score. The title is to be completed by adding the number of performers, eg. Music for Five. Each part consists of "pieces" and "interludes". The parts are notated on two systems and use flexible time-brackets.

Part of the "pieces" are made up of single held tones, preceded and followed by silence, can be repeated any number of times and are to be played softly. Others consist of sequences of tones with various pitches, notated proportionally. These tones are not to be repeated and have various dynamics, timbres and durations. 

The "Interludes", lasting 5, 10 or 15 seconds, are to be played freely with respect to dynamics and durations of single notes, and played normally with respect to timbre. The work uses microtonal pitches.

The piano is played by bowing the strings with fishing line or horse hair. The percussionists have fifty instruments each, to be chosen by the performer. Selected instruments must be able to produce held tones. The string parts follow the notation of Freeman Etudes.

The players may decide on the amount of pieces and interludes to be performed, resulting in a maximum duration of thirty minutes.

The description of Cage's works are taken from the John Cage database.

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