23 February 2011

Be part of aural history! Today, between 7-11am Central Time, UMFM and OgreOgress productions are pleased to present three world radio premieres of works by John Cage (1912-1992). Catch a preview of this episode in the February 16th edition of The Manitoban. The frequency is 101.5 in Winnipeg, http://www.umfm.com/listenonline/ in the stream.

Set #1 - 7:00am - 9:00am

Shô: "The light that penetrates from the Heavens."

In John Cage's Two3 the reedy, etherial sounds of the shô (Japanese mouth organ) are like a distant spotlight that waxes and wanes, punctuated at long intervals by bubbles from the water-filled (and highly-amplified) conch. I know of few other works where the silence between sounds is so insistent, so impinging. As suggested by that anonymous quote above, it is as if we are experiencing a series of slow-motion glimpses into a heavenly realm. (Aldous Huxley wrote in 1931: "After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." To paraphrase: Silence more nearly expresses the inexpressible than does music.)

1. John Cage: Two3 (1991)
Tamami Tono - shô, Glenn Freeman - conch shells
John Cage: Two3, Inlets, Two4
OgreOgress productions, 634479 370557

A word on conch technique: Bubbles are produced by tipping the shell, allowing trapped air to escape from the three-dimensional spiral. A startling, comedic element at first — What else are bubbles associated with? Office water coolers, perhaps. — becomes part of the fabric of the piece over the next two hours.

Producing bubble(s) by tipping is a contingency, "a future event or circumstance that is possible but cannot be predicted with certainty." Contingency refers also to the measures put in place to deal with such an event. What is your contingency? "To get yourself a comfy chair, maybe brew yourself a cup of tea, sit back and try to get your mind into John Cage’s sound-world."

Rob Haskins' detailed liner notes are available here.

Set #2 - 9:00am - 11:00am

2. John Cage: 108 (1991)
The Chance Philharmonic:
Christina Fong - violins & violas
Karen Krummel - cellos
Michael Crawford - contrabasses
Ruth Bylsma - piccolo, flutes & alto flute
Sarah Bowman - oboes & English horns
Michael Kornacki - clarinets & bass clarinets
Vince Karamanov - bassoons & contrabassoons
Paul Austin - horns
Michael Bowman - trumpets
Robert Ward - trombones, bass trombones & tuba
Glenn Freeman - percussion

Like Cage's other Number Pieces, the title refers to the number of performers deployed; the superscript (if any), to the place in Cage's work catalog. 108 is in four movements, like a traditional symphony, but lacks the traditional symphony's goal direction. Silences of up to 4 minutes separate the individual movements.

Of the three recordings on the Chance Philharmonic's CD, this is my favourite. I'm drawn to the percussion part, which uses a battery of instruments from snare drum to thunder sheet in a variety of creative ways.

3. John Cage: 110 (1991)

Any three movements of Two3 played with 108, making a double concerto for shô and conch shells plus symphony orchestra.

All of the pieces featured on today's show are composed using a time bracket technique: "the score consists of short fragments (frequently just one note, with or without dynamics) and indications, in minutes and seconds, of when the fragment should start and when it should end. Time brackets can be fixed (e.g. from 1.15 to 2.00) or flexible (e.g. from anywhere between 1.15 and 1.45, and to anywhere from 2.00 to 2.30)." Needless to say, every realization of a Number Piece will be one of a kind.

Rob Haskins says this about Cage: "[His] music depends on a slow unfolding and a leisurely approach to time in order to make its full impact.... There is no contrast, no epiphany, no drama, no point. The music simply continues with almost annoying steadfastness until its end."

Tracks 2-3
John Cage: 108, 109, 110
OgreOgress productions, 884502 966343
(109, which I'm saving for a future broadcast, is a cello concerto.)

4. Etenraku [Music of divinity]
Kyoto Imperial Court Music Orchestra
Gagaku: The Imperial Court Music of Japan
Lyrichord, LYRCD 7126

The shô in its natural habitat: Gagaku, the ancient court music of Japan. There will be more shô on next week's show sho' nuff.

Where to buy CDs featured on today's show:
Two3 - CDBaby
108 & 110 - CDBaby
Kyoto Imperial Court Music Orchestra - CD Universe


alex said...

This has to be the best afternoon I've had at work for months. 108 was magnificant. Ready for 110!
Thanks from a miserable, grey, London [U.K.]

alex said...

Still enjoying the show. I think it is safe to say I'll be tuning in regularly!

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