March 29, 2015

Playlist Week of 2015-03-28

* Takemitsu: I Hear The Water Dreaming (BBC Sym./Gallois, et al.) (DG CD)
* Takemitsu: A Flock Descends Into The Pentagonal Garden (Boston Sym. Et al.) (DG CD)
* Cage, et al.: John Cage Shock Vol.1 (Omega Point CD)
* Cage, et al.: John Cage Shock Vol.2 (Omega Point CD)
* Cage, et al.: John Cage Shock Vol.3 (Omega Point CD)
* Toudi Heath: Kawaida (Obe LP)
* David S. Ware Quartet: Live In The World (d.1-2) (Thirsty Ear 3CD)
* Pharoah Sanders: Summun Bukmun Umyun (Impulse! LP)
* Pharoah Sanders: Jewels of Thought (Impulse! CD)
* Pharoah Sanders: Karma (Impulse! CD)
* Pharoah Sanders: Thembi (Impulse! CD)
* Archie Shepp: Three For A Quarter, One For A Dime (Impulse! LP)
* Archie Shepp: Live In San Francisco (Impulse! CD)
* Air: Open Air Suit (Arista/Novus LP)
* Jean-Luc Ponty: Aurora (Atlantic LP)
* Steve Tibbetts: Big Map Idea (ECM CD)
* Latitude: Latitude (Lifestyle LP)
* Parliament: Live: P-Funk Earth Tour (Casablanca CD)
* Shaver: Tramp On Your Street (Zoo/Classic Records LP)
* Emmylou Harris: Luxury Liner (Warner Bros. LP)
* Emmylou Harris: Cimarron (Warner Bros. LP)
* John Renbourn: Sir John A Lot of (Transatlantic/Windham Hill LP)
* Ultimate Spinach: Ultimate Spinach (MGM LP)
* Hawkwind: Quark Strangeness And Charm (Charisma LP)
* Goblin: Roller (Cinevox LP)
* Simonetti/Pignatelli/Morante: Tenebre OST (Cinevox LP)
* Jah Wobble/The Edge/Holger Czukay: Snake Charmer (Island EP)
* Steven Wilson: Hand. Cannot. Erase (KScope 2LP/BD)
* Enslaved: In Times (Nuclear Blast 2LP)
* Sunn O))): 00 Void (Southern Lord CD)
* Boris: Noise (Sargent House 2LP) †/
* Electric Wizard: We Live (Rise Above 2LP)
* Beach House: Bloom (Sub Pop 2-45RPM LP)



My new piano is such a joy to play, I have found myself practicing (almost) every day -- sometimes for hours  on end. Much to my amazement, my reading chops are slowly coming back and I have been really enjoying diving into some of the more challenging scores in my collection, including works by Debussy, Satie, Schoenberg -- and John Cage.

Of course, I do not have a grand piano, so Cage's seminal "prepared" piano works (wherein bolts, nuts, weatherstripping and other stuff are inserted between the strings) are beyond my current capabilities. But he wrote quite a bit of music for un-prepared piano and much of which can be found in two volumes published by C.F. Peters. Edited by Margaret Leng Tan, these newly-engraved scores are a treasure trove of early Cageiana.

Most of these pieces were written for Cage himself to play, as accompanist to choreography by Merce Cunningham, Jean Erdman and others and are, therefore, not all that technically demanding. However, Cage's compositions are idiosyncratic in the extreme. Pieces like "In A Landscape" and "Dream" (both composed in 1948) evoke the languid tranquility of Satie while hinting at "New Age" music to come -- yet Cage introduces odd dissonances and unexpected rhythmic displacements that prevent the music from receding into sonic wallpaper (and keep the pianist on his toes). And while "Suite for Toy Piano" (1948) restricts itself to only the "white keys" and a severely limited compass, Cage's complex rhythmic schemes make it more than just child's play to perform.

Even more interesting is "Ophelia" (1946), which shows remnants of Schoenberg's influence in its raw expressionism and prominently recurring tone-rows. Yet most of the piece is dominated by strongly accented rhythmic figures that prefigure the powerful physicality of rock music. "Soliloquy" (1945) is similarly driven by a primal, propulsive beat, centered low down on the keyboard and punctuated by leaping octaves and stabbing dissonances. These are both a lot of fun to play.

Given Cage's stated antipathy towards jazz, "Jazz Study" (1942) and "Ad Lib" (1943) pose some interesting questions: Are they mere parodies? Or was Cage aware of the birth of black American art music contemporaneously happening up in Harlem? His humorous sprinklings of "wrong notes," glissandos and tone clusters amidst the crude blues-scale melodies certainly implies the former. But the respect with which Cage treats the material makes me wonder how seriously to treat some of his later pronouncements on the subject.

"The Seasons" (1947) was Cage's first orchestral commission, a ballet in one act with choreography by Merce Cunningham and decors by Isamu Noguchi. A piano reduction was simultaneously prepared (presumably for rehearsal purposes) but it stands alone and is, in fact, more often performed than the full orchestral version. As one of the first pieces to utilize chance procedures to order pre-composed "gamuts" of musical events, the pianist is required to precisely articulate a "melody" of held tones while the surrounding aggregates decay at various rates. Not easy to do! But despite increasing abstraction, "The Seasons" has some strikingly beautiful passages, making it worth the effort.

Admittedly, I am no concert pianist. And I play "classical" music just to keep my fingers moving and my mind engaged. However, these early Cage pieces really resonate with me -- and are mostly within my technical abilities. Although I know nothing about dance, it would be interesting to perform them with their original choreography. Not likely to ever happen -- but I'd be game.

1 comment:

Sam said...

I'll try again...I have left comments twice that haven't gone through for some reason. Third time's a charm?

Here are my lists for last week:

Playlist 2015-03-30:

*Anthony Braxton: 2 Compositions (Jarvenpaa) 1988 Ensemble Braxtonia
*Rodger Coleman & Sam Byrd: 2014-12-29 Nashville (wav) (selections)
*Rodger Coleman & Sam Byrd: 2014-12-30 Nashville (wav) (selections)
*Rodger Coleman & Sam Byrd: Aphelion
*Sylvie Courvoisier/Mark Feldman: 2010-07-03 Whitney Museum of Modern Art, NYC (CDR)
*Marilyn Crispell/Reggie Workman/Doug James: Gaia
*Marilyn Crispell/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian: Amaryllis
*Jimmy Ghaphery: 904F (streaming)
*Gruppo Di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza: Niente
*Kip Hanrahan: 1985-02-27 SOB’s, NYC (CDR)
*Mindbreath Trio: 2015-01-10 Union Arts, Washington DC (wav)
*Tom Rainey Trio: 2011-05-06 Firehouse 12, New Haven, CT (CDR)
*Synthesis: Sentiments
*Alan Silva and the Celestrial Communication Orchestra: Seasons
*Sun Ra: College Tour Vol. 1: The Complete Nothing Is...
*Sun Ra & His Astro-Infinity Arkestra: Sign of the Myth
*Beach Boys: Made in California (disc 1)
*Deerhoof: 2014-11-04 Brooklyn (youtube)
*Bob Dylan and The Band: The Basement Tapes- Complete (disc 5)
*Mike Elder/Harry Forrest/Greg Jordan/Sam Byrd: 2015-03-20 (wav)
*Grateful Dead: 1970-09-17 Fillmore East "Dark Star" (CDR)
*Jimi Hendrix: 1968-10 TTG Studios, Hollywood (boot CDR)
*Jimi Hendrix Experience: Winterland (disc 4)
*Jimi Hendrix Experience: Like a Rolling Stone/Spanish Castle Magic, Winterland (single)
*Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live in Cologne
*Mastodon: The Hunter (selections)
*UYA: 1989-08-29 African Hang (wav)
*UYA: 1989-09-14 Undress Your Auntie (wav)

Reading List 2015-03-30:

*Lodge, David. “The Secret of Nabokov’s Sexual Style” in The Guardian, 2014-06-07 (started/finished)
*Rosenbaum, Ron. “Barry Diller’s Defining Moment: Will He Save MST3K?” in New York Observer, 1999-03-015 (started/finished)
*Erikson, Steven. Toll the Hounds (reread/in progress)
*Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. Planned Obsolescence (in progress)
*Schmidt, Michael. The Novel: A Biography (in progress)