The Works for Percussion

The Works for Percussion

4 : Music for Speaking Percussionist

Music CD - 2017
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Publisher: New York, NY : Mode, [2017]
Copyright Date: ℗2017
Branch Call Number: CD E CAGE
Characteristics: 1 audio disc : digital ; 4 3/4 in.


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Oct 07, 2017

This is one of those recordings that are so unexpected, so mind-blowing, that they may permanently change how one thinks about music.

Bonnie Whiting, head of the UW's Percussion Studies program, performs music for a speaking percussionist, by composer John Cage. There are five pieces. In “A Flower”, the music begins quietly. Tapping on the closed piano – using it as a percussion instrument – reminds us that this music is “experimental”, but what we’re hearing is indigenous music from another culture. Wordless chanting suggests a lullaby, fading into silence. Near the end, the voice becomes muddied with a couple of “special effects”; thinner, spectral – but this is merely to remind us that it is music from somewhere else. It is quite beautiful.

Abruptly the sound changes with the appearance of a chatty voice and a loud drumroll. This is “51'15.657" (Realization Of 45' For A Speaker & 27'10.554" For A Percussionist)”. This is actually two of Cage’s pieces performed at the same time. Playing two (more or less unrelated) pieces at the same time is, of course, a feat of technical virtuosity for a single performer (I saw it done live in concert); but that is not why we are listening. The speaking part was written (about several topics) and then cut up and pasted together in a new configuration; the percussion part was drawn from imperfections in the paper which Cage was using to compose. There is also leeway as to which percussion instruments are played. This is “random” music (with momentary breaks in the for throat-clearing and coughing, both written into the music); this manner of composing and playing, of course, prevents anything continuous or “logical” from emerging; but that is the point. Letting go of expectations, we listen in expectation of any sound. Though sometimes strident, sometimes comical, the overall effect is that of tranquility.

A second mashup of a speaking piece and a percussion piece, “Music For Two (By One) [Realization Of Music For...]”, continues the soundscape of 51'15.657” but uses some different percussion and links the shorter melodic pieces with fragments of singing. The fourth piece, “The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs” (a setting of a fragment of Jame’s Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake”) returns stylistically to the first piece, “A Flower”, and is one of Cage’s most famous and recognizable compositions. Lastly, “Connecting Egypt To Madison Through Columbus Ohio, Cage, And The History Of The American Labor Movement (Incorporating Music For Marcel Duchamp & Variations 2)”, a third mix, is performed by Allen Otte. Here, the two worlds are mixed even more as gamelan-like “prepared piano” undulates under Mr. Otte’s political speeches. The result, however, as often in Cage’s work, is (non-)chaos which leads to extreme refinement to tranquility.

Listen to this CD. Your mind will be blown. I rated it “5 stars” because it’s not possible to give it 7 or 8.


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