Author Topic: John Cage's Number Pieces  (Read 4725 times)

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Offline T. D.

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #20 on: March 30, 2020, 04:43:12 PM »
Listened on Youtube to Four^2 from this

and was highly impressed.

Offline Mandryka

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #21 on: April 02, 2020, 08:46:43 AM »
One3 is a late, or latish, work, 1989. It doesn't look and feel like music. Here's the "score"

Quote
For performer amplifying the sound of an auditorium to feedback level.

What can you do with a piece like this? Well, it was written at a time when the great man was interested in the Zen temple at Ryoan-ji near Kyoto, and in particular he liked the garden, which has some lovely rocks and gravel.



In fact he was so impressed by the garden that he created a piece of music (Ryoanji) using chance operations based on the rocks (I'll omit the details . . . ) So why not play One3 at the same time as Ryoanji -- there's a precedent for combining number pieces, making concertante pieces in a way, so . . . why not do this?

Judge for yourself, I think the result, with it's intense and somehow "spiritual" surfaces, is wonderful.

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/UASz_-gdhVg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/UASz_-gdhVg</a>

There is another thing you could do with One3. You could dance to it.

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/lTk7ckfyfW8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/lTk7ckfyfW8</a>
« Last Edit: April 02, 2020, 08:54:42 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #22 on: April 03, 2020, 11:19:03 AM »
Four6 sounds radical, though it's late. There are no pitches and instruments specified in the score. The four performers are told to choose 12 different sounds with fixed characteristics (amplitude, overtone structure etc.) The score tells each performer when the performer should begin to play, and when he should end. Or rather, in this piece, he gives them a range of times to start and end. Here's the first page for the first performer



And here for the fourth



(The diagonals mean that the sounds should be close to each other.)

The first point I want to make is that this type of score seems to defy analysis and defy criticism. Cage appears to have constructed the score carefully, with some attention to details, but how? Are the composer's decisions made randomly or is there a system or what? And how are we to say whether this is a good piece of music? Or even one of the better number pieces?

And the second point I want to make is that prima facie we see a huge demand on player creativity here - compared with the rails of Music of Changes and Variations II, where the chance operations result in a score which completely controls the sounds the performers make.

But things may not be so simple. How does each player decide what to play, when to play it and for how long? Cage is silent about this. Should the player use judgements of taste? Or should the performer also be guided by random processes as Cage was in the music constructed by chance processes? This is, after all, not a graphic score or a even a work like Song Book.




The above recording of Four6 is made using recording technology by one person, Sabine Liebner is auteur. It's a one woman show.  Is that a good idea? Or are these pieces a metaphor for anarchy, in the sense of an ensemble where each person is free to do as he sees fit in the whole?  Does she address this in the booklet? I don't have it (it's on Qobuz)

There are many other recordings of Four6, and I certainly would be unable to pick out in any interesting way the salient features which make one different from another. All provide attractive meditative surfaces.
« Last Edit: April 03, 2020, 11:24:54 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline T. D.

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #23 on: April 03, 2020, 11:28:55 AM »
Four6 sounds radical, though it's late. There are no pitches and instruments specified in the score. The four performers are told to choose 12 different sounds with fixed characteristics (amplitude, overtone structure etc.) The score tells each performer when the performer should begin to play, and when he should end. Or rather, in this piece, he gives them a range of times to start and end. Here's the first page for the first performer



And here for the fourth



(The diagonals mean that the sounds should be close to each other.)

The first point I want to make is that this type of score seems to defy analysis and defy criticism. Cage appears to have constructed the score carefully, with some attention to details, but how? Are the composer's decisions made randomly or is there a system or what? And how are we to say whether this is a good piece of music? Or even one of the better number pieces?

And the second point I want to make is that prima facie we see a huge demand on player creativity here - compared with the rails of Music of Changes and Variations II, where the chance operations result in a score which completely controls the sounds the performers make.

But things may not be so simple. How does each player decide what to play, when to play it and for how long? Cage is silent about this. Should the player use judgements of taste? Or should the performer also be guided by random processes as Cage was in the music constructed by chance processes? This is, after all, not a graphic score or a even a work like Song Book.




The above recording of Four6 is made using recording technology by one person, Sabine Liebner is auteur. It's a one woman show.  Is that a good idea? Or are these pieces a metaphor for anarchy, in the sense of an ensemble where each person is free to do as he sees fit in the whole?  Does she address this in the booklet? I don't have it (it's on Qobuz)

There are many other recordings of Four6, and I certainly would be unable to pick out in any interesting way the salient features which make one different from another. All provide attractive meditative surfaces.
Interesting. Thanks!
Maybe a stupid question (I was too lazy to Google), but in Four^6 are the 12 sounds the same across all four players?  Or does each player select (in some manner) her own 12 sounds?
Re. overdubbing on number piece recordings, thus far my aesthetic/philosophical preference has been to avoid it. But I'm no longer sure that's "correct" and am going to research the matter, specifically what Cage himself thought of overdubbing.

Offline Mandryka

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #24 on: April 03, 2020, 11:33:02 AM »
This may or may not answer your question -- this is what the great man says



My feeling is, from the Barton Workshop recording, that each player has 12 sounds of his own. But I could be wrong.
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Offline T. D.

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #25 on: April 03, 2020, 01:19:33 PM »
This may or may not answer your question -- this is what the great man says



My feeling is, from the Barton Workshop recording, that each player has 12 sounds of his own. But I could be wrong.

Thanks.
I read that passage as implying that each player has 12 sounds of her own. That seems logically necessary: given that the instrumentation is arbitrary, some pairs of instruments could be so vastly different (pitched vs. unpitched, etc.) that a "same 12 sounds for all players" interpretation would be essentially impossible.
I have the Barton Workshop recording, possibly others (at work right now so can't determine), and will listen to what's available.

Offline T. D.

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #26 on: April 03, 2020, 03:51:19 PM »
While trying to find out about Cage's stance on overdubbing, I ran across the following interesting academic paper on harmonic and performance aspects of Four^2. Not the piece we were discussing, but still a good read IMO (I have a quant - math/statistics - education so the Monte Carlo approach makes a lot of sense to me).

https://mtosmt.org/issues/mto.17.23.4/mto.17.23.4.andersen.html

I also found a paper by Rob Haskins, JOHN CAGE AND RECORDED SOUND: A DISCOGRAPHICAL ESSAY, but had to get a free Jstor account to view it so can't give a link. It didn't shed any light on Cage's thoughts re. overdubbing, though Haskins himself is clearly less than enthusiastic about the device. However, there's one suggestive passage (in the midst of prasing a Wergo recording by Scodanibbio): "...Ryoanji (1984), a gloriously microtonal composition whose score consists of elegantly curving lines that frequently intersect, which must be realized by a solo musician performing one part in concert with the others previously recorded..." That implies that Cage couldn't have been totally opposed to overdubbing.
« Last Edit: April 03, 2020, 04:36:29 PM by T. D. »

Offline Mandryka

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #27 on: April 04, 2020, 12:11:23 PM »


In the booklet the composer, Burkhard Schlothauer, says this about Nine.

Quote
Is Nine a Plagiarism?

The well-known Zagreb music biennale, which has been a hotspot for contemporary music for more than 30 years, asked rein- hold friedl, musical director of zeitkratzer, to perform a program of late ensemble works by john cage in 2010. unfortunately, however, there are only a few works that could be performed with the full cast of zeitkratzer.
so i suggested that i would rewrite the non-existent number piece nine for zeitkratzer.

in my master thesis, i had thoroughly studied john cage's number pieces, their compositional style - in particular seven, one of the first works in this series - and had already recorded and produced this composition in 2002 (EWR 0604).

the number pieces, of which there are about 50, were all composed by using of chance operations, applied to certain predefined possibilities available for selection. the compositional process therefore consists to a large extent of determining the sound material and the questions to be asked. the actual transformation into the notes can then be done relatively mechanically.

By analyzing the scores of the number pieces, it is possible to deduce the questions answered by the chance operations. from that, the material and its possibilities in terms of pitches, dynamic range of values, articulation variants etc. can be determined fairly reliably. once one has these specifications it becomes theoretically possible to reapply the chance procedures to a new piece, that could have equally occurred to cage.
the idea for nine was born: cage's composition plan should be adopted and i, personally submitting to his taste, accepted his authorship. as his posthumous assistant, i implemented his plan and wrote nine.

I realized his program all the way down to the layout of the sheet music and only brought in my own formal element of sym-metrically arranged tones of equal duration with regard to the electric guitar part.
stepping back behind Cage and merging with him in my work, was a cheerful process that gave me a lot of pleasure. and since i worked according to his plan, I feel nine to be cage's work in essential aspects.

(Sorry about the punctuation, he clearly doesn't believe in capital letters, I've corrected a few but it's too boring to do the whole thing.)

It is quite clearly a Cage rip off, not unattractive, but somehow IMO lifeless and outstays its welcome. But the main reason for posting this is that Burkhard Schlothauer suggests in the note that the number pieces were constructed by chance operations. Or at least I think that's what he's saying.
« Last Edit: April 05, 2020, 04:24:03 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline T. D.

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #28 on: April 05, 2020, 03:49:56 AM »
Rob Haskins's bio suggests that the time brackets for the number pieces were obtained by simulating a random process on the computer (technically, "pseudo-random number generation"):

Cage's work in composition changed substantially beginning in December 1983, when he began using a personal computer to facilitate much of his creative process. He was considerably aided by the composer Andrew Culver, who wrote most of the software that Cage used including a simulation of the I Ching coin toss and a utility that generated streams of time brackets for solo and ensemble works. (p. 135)

I didn't find any description of how the tones/sounds were determined. [Stressing an obvious point: the cited computer methods were used for various compositions, not just number pieces.]
« Last Edit: April 05, 2020, 06:31:28 AM by T. D. »

Offline Mandryka

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #29 on: April 05, 2020, 10:56:42 AM »
I've just ordered James Pritchett's book, which may have some information on how this music was made.

One interesting question is whether the number pieces are a genre, or just a way of making titles for a diverse range of musical styles, some or all of which were present in other pieces by Cage.
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #30 on: April 07, 2020, 05:15:46 AM »
<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/uOapIs-VOHc" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/uOapIs-VOHc</a>


Years ago I met someone who worked with Cage who said to me casually that orchestral music wasn't his strength, and that kind of put me off. However, listening to this performance of seventy four I think that it's not fair, the chords here sound effective to me. Cage's performance notes say something interesting

Quote
There should be the usual imperfection of tuning perhaps slightly exaggerated so that the music is microtonal...

The youtube comes from this CD, which I'm tempted to buy.



https://www.discogs.com/John-Cage-Klang-Der-Wandlungen/master/1562575


« Last Edit: April 07, 2020, 05:20:27 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline vers la flamme

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #31 on: April 07, 2020, 06:41:45 AM »
^What's the biggest number piece? I see there's 103 on that disc.

Offline Mandryka

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #32 on: April 07, 2020, 06:56:59 AM »
^What's the biggest number piece? I see there's 103 on that disc.

108. This is useful

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_Pieces

Note that Cage encouraged people to play some of the larger pieces with solo pieces, making a sort of concerto.
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #33 on: April 09, 2020, 06:12:00 AM »


Listening to the two seventy-four recordings on this CD today I couldn’t help but ask myself whether this music is some sort of hommage to Scelsi, or maybe Scelsi is in some sort of permanent hommage mode to seventy-four.

Only at the level of sound of course, I expect that there’s plenty going on at the level of concept - the indeterminacy, the tuning, the way microtones come into the game etc - which is pure Cage.

It’s very good, if you want more of the same old same old. (deleted because that sort of thing is totally inappropriate in a thread about Cage. I don’t judge.) 

There’s  maybe a problem with avant garde, both Darmstadt style and anti-Darmstadt. The music doesn’t distinguish itself by melodies - and you have a few tropes which keep going round. Listening to Mark Andre the other day - this CD -  I couldn’t help but think that the prima facie formlessness of it demanded exactly the same sort of listening that Cage demands. I’m not sure that, if I didn’t know better, I could have said that it wasn’t by Cage, just as with 74 I may not have said that it wasn’t by Scelsi. My ignorance and naivety no doubt.



And don’t get me started on Lachenmann . . . .
« Last Edit: April 09, 2020, 06:16:58 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline vers la flamme

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #34 on: April 09, 2020, 06:18:42 AM »


Listening to the two seventy-four recordings on this CD today I couldn’t help but ask myself whether this music is some sort of hommage to Scelsi, or maybe Scelsi is in some sort of permanent hommage mode to seventy-four.

Only at the level of sound of course, I expect that there’s plenty going on at the level of concept - the indeterminacy, the tuning, the way microtones come into the game etc - which is pure Cage.

It’s very good, if you want more of the same old same old. (deleted because that sort of thing is totally inappropriate in a thread about Cage. I don’t judge.) 

There’s  maybe a problem with avant garde, both Darmstadt style and anti-Darmstadt. The music doesn’t distinguish itself by melodies - and you have a few tropes which keep going round. Listening to Mark Andre the other day - this CD -  I couldn’t help but think that the prima facie formlessness of it demanded exactly the same sort of listening that Cage demands. I’m not sure that, if I didn’t know better, I could have said that it wasn’t by Cage, just as with 74 I may not have said that it wasn’t by Scelsi. My ignorance and naivety no doubt.



And don’t get me started on Lachenmann . . . .

Not a fan of his? I have been meaning to check out his music. I just finished Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise which had some interesting things to say about him. But I'm not in a hurry to discover any new composer at this stage in life.

Anyway I really want that Cage ECM disc. Looks great.

Offline Mandryka

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #35 on: April 09, 2020, 06:19:40 AM »
Not a fan of his? I have been meaning to check out his music.

Scelsi or Mark André? Or Lachenmann?

Ah. I see. Lachenmann. I find some of it funny, it makes me smile!
« Last Edit: April 09, 2020, 06:23:15 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline T. D.

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #36 on: April 09, 2020, 06:43:47 AM »
I went through a Lachenmann phase but interest faded somewhat.
The recordings that survived culls were Reigen seliger geister / Tanzsuite mit Deutschlandlied on Montaigne and Gran Torso / Salut fuer Caudwell on col legno. I think the former disc has some absolutely wicked black humor!

Offline Mandryka

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #37 on: April 09, 2020, 07:51:25 AM »
Lachenmann's conception of music is, in a way, antithetical to Cage's more experimental music.  Look, here's the first two pages of Gran Torso

   

Every gesture that the musicians do is specified.  They're like musical puppets and Lachenmann's got the strings.  Lachenmann's a control freak.

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Offline vers la flamme

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #38 on: April 09, 2020, 08:16:15 AM »
^Wow, I see that. Those "bridge and string clefs" are something else, I've never seen notation like that. I think I will keep my distance for now, as I am doing with Ferneyhough. Music far less complicated than that already gives me a headache trying to understand it at times.  ;D Anyway, I don't much care for "eye music" with a few exceptions.

Offline vers la flamme

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Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
« Reply #39 on: April 09, 2020, 09:02:18 AM »
^Wow, I see that. Those "bridge and string clefs" are something else, I've never seen notation like that. I think I will keep my distance for now, as I am doing with Ferneyhough. Music far less complicated than that already gives me a headache trying to understand it at times.  ;D Anyway, I don't much care for "eye music" with a few exceptions.

OK, after hearing Gran Torso, I take that all back. That was a fascinating work of art. This is clearly a very, very skilled composer. I will try and get that Arditti Quartet disc. But no rush.