The OgreOgress label continues its mission of documenting many of the late works of John Cage, especially the so-called number pieces. In a sense, they’re very hard compositions to evaluate. The aspects I enjoy about them (and there are many)—I’m never quite sure if it’s what I’m “supposed” to be enjoying. For example, being generally a fan of drones and sustained notes, I find myself lolling—not idly lolling but lolling nonetheless–very comfortably in the extended tones of “Twenty-Nine” but I’m not at all sure that this sort of aural “comfort” was what Mr. Cage intended. Partly this is due to the greater amount of severity present in the accompanying, approximately contemporaneous pieces. “One4” (the “4” should be superscripted, as in a power sign), for solo percussion (performed by Glenn Freeman) consists of isolated segments of cymbal rides, snare rolls, tom poundings and such with periods of silence between. The spacing of these elements seems to be of greater import than the sounds themselves which are (intentionally?) rather prosaic. But by varying these sounds instead of dealing with self-similar sonic material (only snare rolls, for instance), one’s ears are drawn a bit away from that spatial aspect toward the sounds as such, causing an amount of tension that’s less than comfortable. Of course, perhaps that’s the intent and disquiet is certainly a valuable commodity itself. Not having seen the scores, I have no idea of what latitude, if any, is given the performers, so I’m left simply reacting to what I hear and find that I (inevitably) slip into enjoying the “fuller” pieces much more.
“Four” is presented in six versions, each lasting exactly five minutes, with alternate listening patterns offered on the sleeve, in 10-, 20-, or 30-minute morsels. If I’m not mistaken, the piece is performed on occasionally overdubbed violins/violas (Christina Fong) and cellos (Karen Krummel). Generally, you hear longish (five to ten second) bowed notes, layered on top and around each other, sometimes singly, sometimes in dense harmony, fairly tonal and varying subtly in intensity. I find the music somewhat difficult to concentrate on, always flitting away from my grasp, never quite congealing into a solid object. Though, when listened to “out of the corner of my ear”, there is something of a meditative quality that emerges; a troubled meditation, though.
But, ah, “Twenty-Nine”—what a stunner! Bringing Freeman back into the mix along with bassist Michael Crawford, not only are all the previous tracks’ elements and then some on luxuriant display, but the lines are lengthened into an omnipresent flux, a rich, vibrant field of sound of apparently endless variety and texture. Remember that 24-hour elastification of Beethoven’s Ninth that appeared a couple years back? I had a roughly equivalent sensation here. Take some high, ecstatic burst of free jazz, say the initial several seconds of “Machine Gun”, retain the pitch but stretch it out 29 minutes, losing the shriek but magnifying each constituent thread, listening to them leisurely unfurl and drift off. It’s a wonderful tonic for the relative astringency of the other pieces and, taking the disc as whole, provides a fine balance.
The second recording contains two of Cage’s last works; in fact, I believe “One8” is actually the final (possibly unfinished) piece of his. “One8” was originally written for cellist Michael Bach to take advantage of the curved bow he’d invented, apparently adapted from models used in the Baroque and perhaps previously, which allows it to come into contact with as many as all four strings simultaneously. A salient feature of this performance is that the cellist has chosen to remain unidentified. A little more on this below.
“One7 (from One13)” is 30 minutes of the same note (F sharp), played over and over in long segments. It’s fantastic. The cellist wisely doesn’t vary her (I’m entirely guessing as to gender) attacks in a drastic manner, rather choosing to subtly vary the dynamics, graininess and timbre in addition to altering the duration of the sounds and the silences, often prolonged, between them. The recording has a wonderful rawness to it, every rough edge limned, every resonance and overtone captured in fine detail. You inevitably get drawn into a kind of breathing rhythm, carefully contemplating each in- and exhalation.
You can hear the difference the Bach bow makes immediately as “One8” begins, especially after the austerity of the first piece. Though structurally somewhat similar, consisting of longish notes placed amidst silences (the work, by the way, lasts precisely 43:30, heh-heh), the notes have become complex chords, full of whistles, groans and scratches. There are occasions–the stretch beginning about 8 minutes in, for instance–where she achieves a remarkable juicy, gurgling texture that’s simply quiver-inducing. The silent spaces are longer than the prior piece, leading one away from hearing it in breathing terms. For me, it’s more like being out in a quiet landscape, the silence broken sporadically by birds, wind, far-off highways. Unlike “One7”, for which I couldn’t locate any other recordings, I understand that “One8” has been released by several musicians, including Mr. Bach. I’d be very curious to hear comparison thoughts from Bags readers who know any of the other versions.
Though I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head, it wouldn’t totally surprise me if there have been recordings released by people without any sort of personal credit, but I’ve certainly never seen anything like it in the “classical” world. I do find this kind of self-effacement quite appealing, removing a layer between listener and music. It’d be interesting to see what would happen if this sort of thing ever became the rule, not that there’s the slightest danger of that happening.
In the meantime, do yourselves a favor and check out these discs.
OgreOgress appears to be operating out of a sub-site located here: http://home.swipnet.se/sonoloco2/Rec/OgreOgressProductions/ogreogressframes.html