GMG Classical Music Forum

The Music Room => Great Recordings and Reviews => Topic started by: Mandryka on February 20, 2020, 03:34:32 AM

Title: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on February 20, 2020, 03:34:32 AM
I've decided to explore these works.

Suggestions for things which have captured your imagination or given you food for thought, either recordings or writings, much appreciated.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: André on February 20, 2020, 05:55:11 AM

I’ve had this on my wish list for quite some time now. The work is performed in two different ways - whatever that’s supposed to mean. I’m interested in your comments !


https://www.jpc.de/jpcng/cpo/detail/-/art/John-Cage-1912-1992-Thirteen/hnum/6646974 (https://www.jpc.de/jpcng/cpo/detail/-/art/John-Cage-1912-1992-Thirteen/hnum/6646974)

(https://media1.jpc.de/image/w600/front/0/0761203922727.jpg)
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: T. D. on February 20, 2020, 07:11:00 AM
I've periodically looked (albeit not intensely) for informative writing on the number pieces, but never found anything significant.
Always liked this one: live recording at the venue for which the piece was commissioned:
(https://img.discogs.com/hkRrsMIMtaD7c3zpbg4x7ntKgpo=/fit-in/300x300/filters:strip_icc():format(jpeg):mode_rgb():quality(40)/discogs-images/R-1082021-1190692918.jpeg.jpg)
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on February 20, 2020, 08:19:05 AM
Thanks for all these inspiring ideas.

Here is the essay from this recording

(https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51ABH40D6NL._AC_.jpg)

Quote from: Rob Haskins
As he approached his eightieth birthday, John Cage (1912–1992) found himself the grand old man of the avant-garde, a composer, writer, and artist who had attained notoriety and visibility on a worldwide scale. Once only a small circle of brilliant performers had been associated with his work; now ensembles and soloists awarded him commission after commission for new compositions. In order to keep up with the demand for new pieces, Cage turned once more to his long–time assistant Andrew Culver, who developed new software that enabled Cage to write music very quickly.

These new works, which occupied almost all of Cage’s compositional attention between 1987 and 1992, came to be known as the Number Pieces. Each work’s title consists only of a number written out as a word (One, Two, Fourteen, etc.) that indicates the number of performers for which the piece was composed. If Cage wrote several works for the same number of performers, he would make a further distinction in the title by adding a superscript numeral; for instance, Four (1989) is for string quartet, while Four4 (1991) is for a quartet of percussion.

As in many of Cage’s works, there is a rich network of ideas underlying the 48 completed Number Pieces. One of the most important of these is the composer’s concern for the place of the artist within society and his concern for society in general. This idea occupied his mind since his decisive adoption of indeterminacy in the 1950s. We certainly recall Cage’s famous statement about musicians in the Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1958):

I must find a way to let people be free without their becoming foolish. So that their freedom will make them noble. . . . My problems have become social rather than musical. Was that what Sri Ramakrishna meant when he said to the disciple who asked him whether he should give up music and follow him? “By no means. Remain a musician. Music is a means of rapid transportation to life everlasting.” And in a lecture I gave at Illinois, I added, “To life, period.” [John Cage, A Year from Monday: New Lectures and Writings (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1967), 136.]

In the Number Pieces Cage made his final statement on this social problem: how to create a musical metaphor for an “enlightened” anarchy, a society of individuals who live together in harmony without having to sacrifice their freedom as individuals to a central governing authority. He had attacked the problem earlier from a variety of angles; in his most radical works like 0¢00² (1962) and Variations III (1963), for example, the performer realizes actions that may or may not be “musical” in the traditional sense, and she may do these actions for any length of time. Without traditional musical sounds or the “frame” that a time span provides, Cage challenged the very notions of the musical work.

For most of the Number Pieces, however, Cage decided to specify the length of time that each piece would last, perhaps because he wrote so many of them for musicians that he did not personally know. But in order to introduce an element of unpredictability and flexibility within a stable total duration (thus bringing the music closer to his ideal of an anarchistic environment), Cage turned to elastic “measures” that he called time brackets. He describes the time brackets in his late autobiographical mesostic, Composition in Retrospect (1981/1988):

    for some time now i haVe been using / time-brAckets / sometimes they aRe / fIxed / And sometimes not / By fixed / i mean they begin and end at particuLar / points in timE

    when there are not pointS / Time / foR both beginnings and end is in space / the sitUation / is muCh more flexible / These time-brackets / are Used / in paRts / parts for which thEre is no score no fixed relationship

    it was part I thought of a moVement in composition / Away / fRom structure / Into process / Away / from an oBject having parts / into what you might caLl / wEather

    now i_See / That / the time bRackets / took_Us / baCk from / weaTher which had been reached to object / they made an earthqUake / pRoof music / so to spEak

    [John Cage, Composition in Retrospect (Cambridge: Exact Change Books, 1993), 34–35.]

Cage had used time brackets for a long time, for instance in the 1952 Untitled Event at Black Mountain College. In the Number Pieces, however, the time brackets are smaller and more subtle. In Four4, as an example, the music in Player I’s first time bracket can begin any time between 0¢00² and 1¢00²; it must end sometime between 0¢40² and 1¢40². On the other hand, Player IV can begin the music in his first time bracket any time between 0¢00² and 0¢15² and must end it between 0¢10² and 0¢25². None of the time brackets for any of the four players has an exact correspondence with any other, though there is always the possibility that the sounds might overlap. In this way, the performers in Cage’s Number Pieces can participate in a unique kind of ensemble and yet retain their own sense of musical identity and individuality. In conversations with Joan Retallack near the end of his life, Cage described this situation beautifully:

    JC [John Cage]: You would go to a concert and you would hear these people playing without a conductor, hmm? And you would see this group of individuals and you would wonder how in hell are they able to stay together? And then you would gradually realize that they were really together, rather than because of music made to be together. In other words, they were not going one two three four, one two three four, hmm? But that all the things that they were sounding were together, and that each one was coming from each one separately, and they were not following a conductor, nor were they following an agreed-upon metrics. Nor were they following an agreed-upon . . . may I say poetry?—meaning feeling in quite a different way at the same time that they were being together.

    JR [Joan Retallack]: So that really is a kind of microcosm of an—

    JC: Of an anarchist society, yes. That they would have no common idea, they would be following no common law. The one thing that they would be in agreement about would be something that everyone is in agreement about . . . and that is, what time it is.

    [John Cage and Joan Retallack, Musicage: Cage Muses on Words, Art, Music; John Cage in Conversation with Joan Retallack (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1996), 50–51.]

Now the actual sound content of Cage’s time brackets in the Number Pieces is equally subtle: usually each time bracket contains only a single pitch (as in Four4); or perhaps two or three pitches connected by a slur; or more exceptionally, for instance in Thirteen (1992), a longer string of pitches. The percussion parts in most of these works, and in Four4, are for instruments that Cage never specifies but simply refers to by number. By leaving the choice of instruments up to the performers, I believe Cage was expressing not a disinterest in the choice but rather a Zen-like absence from choice, the ultimate certainty that his ego need not influence the sounds that would appear in his percussion music. This absence and the extreme economy of content gives Cage’s Number Pieces a transparency that is always a surprise for those who know the composer’s more extravagant or virtuosic works—27¢10.554² for a Percussionist (1956), the Concert, HPSCHD (1969), Roaratorio (1979), or the Freeman Etudes for violin (1977–80/1989–90). And most of the works are longer than twenty minutes, some much longer than that: Four4 lasts 72 minutes in performance.

Hearing a piece for such a length of time that consists of very few sounds is a very unusual adventure. In my own experiences, I have a sensation of being neither awake nor asleep, present and centered but experiencing the passage of time and listening in a manner totally unfamiliar to me. Another friend of mine described it as being compelled to be with yourself for a very long time. Whatever the impression one has, it is clear that the Number Pieces give a memorable impression of spaciousness and tranquility.

Yet it is a misconception to see these works as the unique and crystalline final monuments of a master composer who expected death at any moment. Many of Cage’s earlier works are just as transparent, from the famous 4¢33² (1952) to Inlets (1977), for four conch shells filled with water. One quality that unites all of these pieces is their amazing emphasis on “ordinary life”—all that performers need to have is devotion both to the act of producing a sound and to hearing the sounds around them. Overly dramatic display has no place in these late works, but curiosity and awareness do. This exuberance for everyday life and for discovery is at the very heart of Cage’s artistic legacy. It is no surprise, then, that one of the artist’s favorite sayings was “Nichi nichi kore ko nichi”—“Every day is a beautiful day.”
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: T. D. on February 20, 2020, 08:38:02 AM
Thanks! That's a great essay. I had a suspicion that some of the best writing on NP might be found in liner notes to recordings.
BTW, this discussion motivated me to finally order Two^2 by Knoop and Thomas.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on February 20, 2020, 08:49:29 AM
Today I've been listening to Two6, for violin and piano.


(http://www.moderecords.com/catalog/images/044cage.gif)

I've found four recordings, and I must say this one on Mode with Ami Flammer and Martine Joste has really caught my imagination. I've listened to the whole thing twice! Normally I've got an attention span of about 10 minutes.

I think this must be very hard to play, there's just nowhere for the musicians to hide! It must be hard to create enough mystery and enough beauty to entice the listener to continue for the duration.

I've come across three other performances of Two6. Irvvin Arditti and Drury plays it here

(https://m.media-amazon.com/images/I/81OE9oe7ULL._SS500_.jpg)

It's strange. It is much more challenging than any other recording of it, long long silences, lots of very straight tone playing, there's little about it which is seductive. But there's something telling me that what he does is interesting, at least I'm not prepared to abandon it just yet. I may be wrong -- it's pull may be just that it's so different. These guys are very experienced of course.

Apart from that there are these two

(https://d27t0qkxhe4r68.cloudfront.net/t_900/5029365885027.jpg?1401982549)     (https://i2.wp.com/davinci-edition.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/157-aboutCAGE-Vol.3.jpg?resize=1024%2C1024&ssl=1)

They both seem OK, maybe less refined than Flammer and Joste.

By the way there's another thing which is called something resembling Two6 here

(https://johncage.org/db_images/Discog/DiscImages/hat6192.jpg)

But it isn't! I don't know what's going on.


(Problem through  a bad tag on Qobuz and other platforms. )
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on February 20, 2020, 08:56:47 AM
I’ve had this on my wish list for quite some time now. The work is performed in two different ways - whatever that’s supposed to mean. I’m interested in your comments !


https://www.jpc.de/jpcng/cpo/detail/-/art/John-Cage-1912-1992-Thirteen/hnum/6646974 (https://www.jpc.de/jpcng/cpo/detail/-/art/John-Cage-1912-1992-Thirteen/hnum/6646974)

(https://media1.jpc.de/image/w600/front/0/0761203922727.jpg)

Well, listening for ten minutes to the first one has made me keen to hear the rest! Sounds promising.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on February 20, 2020, 10:41:06 AM
I’ve had this on my wish list for quite some time now. The work is performed in two different ways - whatever that’s supposed to mean. I’m interested in your comments !


https://www.jpc.de/jpcng/cpo/detail/-/art/John-Cage-1912-1992-Thirteen/hnum/6646974 (https://www.jpc.de/jpcng/cpo/detail/-/art/John-Cage-1912-1992-Thirteen/hnum/6646974)

(https://media1.jpc.de/image/w600/front/0/0761203922727.jpg)

There’s also this, which is very well recorded, full of inner life. I think it’s become clear already that The Number Pieces séries on Mode is going to be essential listening!

(https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51GCEJ7kGhL._SY355_.jpg)

Thirteen may have been his last piece, or maybe two6. Looking now for intimations or mortality . . .the feeling of valediction . . .  like in Feldman’s final work (I know that’s a fool’s errand!) Written in May 1992, he died the following August.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: T. D. on February 20, 2020, 11:56:41 AM
Spinning this one now (haven't listened in a long time):
(http://www.moderecords.com/catalog/images/075cage.jpg)
Strange, in the number pieces it seems like I'm preferring the sonorities of wind instruments and piano to those of strings...have to listen more.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: André on February 20, 2020, 01:01:25 PM
There’s also this, which is very well recorded, full of inner life. I think it’s become clear already that The Number Pieces séries on Mode is going to be essential listening!

(https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51GCEJ7kGhL._SY355_.jpg)

Thirteen may have been his last piece, or maybe two6. Looking now for intimations or mortality . . .the feeling of valediction . . .  like in Feldman’s final work (I know that’s a fool’s errand!) Written in May 1992, he died the following August.

Thanks for the replies, much appreciated. More music to discover!
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on February 20, 2020, 01:10:03 PM
Thanks for the replies, much appreciated. More music to discover!

Ah, i was just coming to post to say that the second version on Reichert is very good!
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on February 25, 2020, 09:49:15 AM
Two very nice things on this which I've been enjoying

(https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51V1IhGp7ZL.jpg)

The first is a beautiful performance of Two With Eberhard Blum and Marianne Schroeder. It's on youtube.

But in a way even more impressive is a performance of a piece called Music for Five. "What is it?" I can hear you think. Well here's a description, which shows that they got up to some pretty amazing things back in the day


Quote
This work consists of 17 parts for voice and instruments without overall score. Its title is to be completed by adding the number of performers, i.e. Music for Five, Music for Twelve, and so forth. Each part consists of "pieces" and "interludes," notated on two systems and using flexible time-brackets. Some of the "pieces" are made up of single held tones, preceded and followed by silence, and should be played softly; they can be also be repeated. Others consist of sequences of tones with various pitches, notated proportionally. Tones in these parts are not to be repeated and have varying dynamics, timbres, and durations. The "Interludes", lasting 5, 10, or 15 seconds, are to be played freely with respect to dynamics and durations of single notes, and normally with respect to timbre. The work uses microtonal pitches. The piano is played by bowing the strings with fishing line or horse hair. The percussionists have 50 instruments each, chosen by the performer with the caveat that selected instruments are able to produce held tones. The string parts follow the notation of Freeman Etudes. The players may decide on the number of “pieces” and “interludes” to be performed, resulting in a maximum duration of thirty minutes.

That description comes from the website

https://johncage.org/ (https://johncage.org/)

which looks like it's going to prove to be an invaluable resource.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on February 26, 2020, 07:32:51 AM
(https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a0311691007_10.jpg)     (http://www.anothertimbre.com/_wp_generated/wp0e30f036_05_06.jpg)

https://gerauschhersteller.bandcamp.com/ (https://gerauschhersteller.bandcamp.com/)
http://www.anothertimbre.com/page78.html (http://www.anothertimbre.com/page78.html)

I've been exploring two performances of Four4. The Another Timbre recording is very colourful and it seems to me to locate the music in a tradition which subsumes Xenakis or Merzbow for example.

The Gerauschhersteller, on the other hand, has the austerity of a desert landscape and from my austere point of view, it's utterly wonderful. But if you don't have monkish tendencies you'll think it's a complete bore.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: T. D. on March 01, 2020, 06:23:14 PM
(https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/512CJhMNKiL.jpg)
Anyone heard this? I'm not always fond of multiple-sax ensembles, but the brief clips I heard were interesting. Krieger has recorded 2 sequels on Mode, but this first disc has the highest % of number pieces.
BTW, I really enjoyed this Another Timbre release (much discussed elsewhere):
(https://img.discogs.com/Qb-SpznxYHZEM8ZesQ_-g09_Mxs=/fit-in/300x300/filters:strip_icc():format(jpeg):mode_rgb():quality(40)/discogs-images/R-11982110-1528403633-8612.jpeg.jpg)
Paid up for it (more than twice the cost of the Mode disc with Rob Haskins, for instance), which is rare for me  :D , but don't regret the purchase.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on March 08, 2020, 01:42:48 AM
(https://m.media-amazon.com/images/I/91BzlOZMvNL._SS500_.jpg)

Wonderful Satie-esque percussion piece here, One7 “for any way of producing sounds” One7 is, according to wiki, related to Four6, I haven’t explored Four6 yet. Cage himself left a recording of One7 - I haven’t heard past the first minute.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on March 12, 2020, 04:54:01 AM
(https://img.discogs.com/gw97uLv7K0v0o69MQ43FQZnNsw0=/fit-in/600x595/filters:strip_icc():format(jpeg):mode_rgb():quality(90)/discogs-images/R-1090212-1191272593.jpeg.jpg)

A lovely performance of Ten, a microtonal piece, here. Apparently Cage did a lot of investigation into microtonality, something I want to explore.

Listening to 10, I thought how the sonorities, though more gentle, resemble Feldman's For Samuel Beckett. And yet this performance of 10 is so alive, it doesn't have the granitic quality of the Feldman. Is that because it is aleatoric in some way? And hence the performers are more involved, more fresh? I don't know.

I felt a similar sense of alertness on this performance of 101 -- for that reason better IMO than the one on record by Stephen Drury with The New England Conservatory Philharmonia.

https://www.youtube.com/v/0b_5WePO5ac

101 is interesting because Cage gives a lot of detail about the sound he wants, for example

Quote
Play it as loud as possible. One breath only. The quality of the tone should be "ragged" or imperfect, that is, not turned on and off as one does an electric light, but brushed into existance as in oriental caligraphy where the ink (the sound) is not always seen, or is so, is streaked with white (silences).

I wonder what his aims were in asking for this. Is it to stop the music being conventionally beautiful? To stop us from perceiving the music as a a mere aesthetic object? 
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on March 12, 2020, 11:29:57 AM
One6 consists of three sections, each one of which is made of a single violin tone being played continuously for a long time.

It has been recorded by both Irvin Arditti and Christina Fong and possibly others. But neither recording do justice to the composer's intentions.

This is because Cage wrote it to be played along with a melting ice sculpture, which dripped onto various musical strings.

You can imagine how thrilled I was to find this recording of János Négyesy (the work's dedicatee) playing it with aforementioned sculpture

https://www.youtube.com/v/bFTj4si1Fmg
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on March 13, 2020, 01:50:31 AM
Cage himself left a recording of One7 - I haven’t heard past the first minute.

(https://m.media-amazon.com/images/I/81t5mPkxEsL._SS500_.jpg)

John Cage left a recording of One7 on the above CD. The music seemed to never start, so I just assumed that I was using bad copies. Anyway I just put it in audacity -- with the following output.

(https://i.ibb.co/vm8D4MQ/Capture.png)
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on March 15, 2020, 05:58:13 AM
(https://d27t0qkxhe4r68.cloudfront.net/images/records/mdgmdg6130798.jpg?1285153956)

Four3 is for one or two pianos, violin, and rainsticks, was also used as an accompaniment for dance. It is thirty minutes in duration.

It's a seminal piece because for the first time in the Number Pieces, Cage offered the musicians a greater variety of choices. Each performer can remain silent, play rainsticks, or play a score derived by chance operations from  Satie's Vexations.  ' One of the performers can also play a single note  on either violin or an electronic device. Cage supplies only an identical sequence of empty time brackets to each player, who is given choices about when to use them  -- the result is that silence is a very present feature of the work.

Silence and rainsticks give this music a really distinctive sound. And in Schliermacher's performance above there's another thing -- the piano often plays in an almost unfeasibly quiet way. At the moment, Schleiermacher's all the Four3 I need.




Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on March 26, 2020, 02:16:06 PM
(https://johncage.org/db_images/Discog/DiscImages/wergo6288.jpg)    (https://johncage.org/db_images/Discog/DiscImages/mode141.jpg)


One8 was written for Michael Bach, who has developed a curved bow to play cello, and, I believe, some techniques for playing harmonics. It is for solo cello, but sometimes is played like a concerto with 108.

I have been able to hear two recordings of the complete solo music, one by Julius Berger and the other by Michael Bach. They are very different both in terms of dynamics and cello timbre. Briefly, Bach is loud and proud and Berger is rather more introspective. I like Berger very much.

Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: T. D. on March 30, 2020, 04:43:12 PM
Listened on Youtube to Four^2 from this
(https://m.media-amazon.com/images/I/81dg0OjzbAL._SS500_.jpg)
and was highly impressed.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka 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.

(https://www.travelcaffeine.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/rock-garden-hojo-ryoanji-temple-kyoto-japan-031.jpg)

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.

https://www.youtube.com/v/UASz_-gdhVg

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

https://www.youtube.com/v/lTk7ckfyfW8
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka 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

(https://i.ibb.co/3SN689L/Capture1.png)

And here for the fourth

(https://i.ibb.co/D56XNSm/Capture2.png)

(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.


(https://assets.boomkat.com/spree/products/28476/large/original.jpg)

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.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: T. D. 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

(https://i.ibb.co/3SN689L/Capture1.png)

And here for the fourth

(https://i.ibb.co/D56XNSm/Capture2.png)

(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.


(https://assets.boomkat.com/spree/products/28476/large/original.jpg)

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.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on April 03, 2020, 11:33:02 AM
This may or may not answer your question -- this is what the great man says

(https://i.ibb.co/7yw4bJ5/Capture1.png)

My feeling is, from the Barton Workshop recording, that each player has 12 sounds of his own. But I could be wrong.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: T. D. on April 03, 2020, 01:19:33 PM
This may or may not answer your question -- this is what the great man says

(https://i.ibb.co/7yw4bJ5/Capture1.png)

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.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: T. D. 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.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on April 04, 2020, 12:11:23 PM
(https://www.corticalart.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/ewr1903-600x532.jpg)

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.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: T. D. 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.]
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka 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.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on April 07, 2020, 05:15:46 AM
https://www.youtube.com/v/uOapIs-VOHc


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://img.discogs.com/7v65lpOqc1cM-f4Pa2UWEhtqDG0=/fit-in/294x294/filters:strip_icc():format(jpeg):mode_rgb():quality(90)/discogs-images/R-11055062-1509017404-5066.jpeg.jpg)

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


Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: vers la flamme on April 07, 2020, 06:41:45 AM
^What's the biggest number piece? I see there's 103 on that disc.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka 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.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on April 09, 2020, 06:12:00 AM
(https://shop.new-art.nl/assets/image.php?width=800&image=/content/img/new_products_queue/14307337355161.jpg)

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.

(https://img.discogs.com/CNnmfbLMTaH7sS6-_wn1nyDp2Y4=/fit-in/450x400/filters:strip_icc():format(jpeg):mode_rgb():quality(90)/discogs-images/R-4485554-1366233007-8682.jpeg.jpg)

And don’t get me started on Lachenmann . . . .
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: vers la flamme on April 09, 2020, 06:18:42 AM
(https://shop.new-art.nl/assets/image.php?width=800&image=/content/img/new_products_queue/14307337355161.jpg)

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.

(https://img.discogs.com/CNnmfbLMTaH7sS6-_wn1nyDp2Y4=/fit-in/450x400/filters:strip_icc():format(jpeg):mode_rgb():quality(90)/discogs-images/R-4485554-1366233007-8682.jpeg.jpg)

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.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka 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!
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: T. D. 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!
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka 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

(https://i.ibb.co/M7KH9gG/lach-2.png)   (https://i.pinimg.com/originals/e7/dd/5e/e7dd5e6205286ec3e8ecbfc4f5ec7a68.jpg)

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

Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: vers la flamme 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.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: vers la flamme 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.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on April 09, 2020, 10:48:58 AM
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.

Yes, all three quartets are well worth hearing in fact.

There's something that Cage and Lachenmann have in common I think -- and it's very relevant to the number pieces. In both there is no sense of loss despite the absence of melody and rhythm. In both we're invited to simply enjoy sounds and silences, and somehow, that's quite enough.

Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: T. D. on April 09, 2020, 01:09:56 PM
108 [Largest number piece]. This is useful

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

...

Aha. I should have known, considering the significance of the number 108 in Buddhism (incl. Zen, and various Indian traditions fwiw).
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on April 10, 2020, 11:15:50 PM
Well in a way it looks as though I was too hasty to say that 108 is the largest, since we have 109 and 110 on this CD, though I’m not sure about the validity of the nomenclature.

(https://img.discogs.com/acKCWneIZDgs5l3BaMawoCQLbuU=/fit-in/300x300/filters:strip_icc():format(jpeg):mode_rgb():quality(40)/discogs-images/R-7638360-1445691705-3988.jpeg.jpg)


I’ve most enjoyed the 108 and One9 on this CD, because there’s a sense of mystery and it’s nicely recorded. Be warned, it starts with a long period of silence. In truth 108 isn’t one of my favourite number pieces.

(https://assets.boomkat.com/spree/products/156648/large/original.jpg)

And there’s an old one here - it must have been danced to I guess.

(https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/71bMkxYFScL._SL1500_.jpg)
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Mandryka on January 13, 2021, 10:10:15 PM
(https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/proxy/6pnpq8QRGbIveVoJN6JLeTi12a5OvaL8EYaJnB-q44N0RQRrYZacfm4NyInvYmPGrMpm5C5brTmTx27hcgAQcS5tYryzIVrS-4CDh-263bTU-Bn5vfNz)

https://anothertimbre.bandcamp.com/album/no-islands

Interesting pastoral performance of Four6 here, for an unusual set of instruments. You can imagine yourself lying in a field near a road and an industrial plant, on a balmy summer’s day,  and these are the sounds you’d hear! I came across it while investigating Sarah Hughes, I think she’s an interesting musician. Her zither really brings this Four6 to life.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: hvbias on September 13, 2021, 02:39:25 PM
I enjoyed this

https://www.youtube.com/v/YOtQZIqfY1w
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: T. D. on September 13, 2021, 04:28:58 PM
I enjoyed this

https://www.youtube.com/v/YOtQZIqfY1w

Excellent! Thanks. I think the trombone's sonority works really well in number pieces, and I like both of the performers (based on other recordings). You've also reminded me that this very release (Etcetera) has been on my want list for a long time...
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: Iota on September 17, 2021, 09:36:07 AM
(https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/proxy/6pnpq8QRGbIveVoJN6JLeTi12a5OvaL8EYaJnB-q44N0RQRrYZacfm4NyInvYmPGrMpm5C5brTmTx27hcgAQcS5tYryzIVrS-4CDh-263bTU-Bn5vfNz)

https://anothertimbre.bandcamp.com/album/no-islands

Interesting pastoral performance of Four6 here, for an unusual set of instruments. You can imagine yourself lying in a field near a road and an industrial plant, on a balmy summer’s day,  and these are the sounds you’d hear! I came across it while investigating Sarah Hughes, I think she’s an interesting musician. Her zither really brings this Four6 to life.

It's striking to me how the lack of any sense of direction in that excerpt, creates a stillness that eventually almost pins you to the ground. Like an oppressive but not unwelcome heat.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: hvbias on September 17, 2021, 12:51:27 PM
It's striking to me how the lack of any sense of direction in that excerpt, creates a stillness that eventually almost pins you to the ground. Like an oppressive but not unwelcome heat.

I found this is one of the things that drew me into late era Cage. Also while Cage would not agree with this I found myself more and more thinking about the amount of noise pollution we're subjected to, further drawing me into these type of pieces. This in part due to how much of the music of Frozen and Moana I've been forced to hear :laugh: I can't even imagine going back to living in a busy city, I'm so thankful to be in a quiet part of the country.

Like I found the Steffen Schleiermacher Complete John Cage Piano Music box, and thought a lot of Cage's early deliberate compositions weren't really all that interesting.

I'd like to hear more of the late Number Pieces composed for larger numbers of musicians but these seem to be hard to come across even on Youtube or their algorithm stinks.
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: T. D. on September 17, 2021, 01:08:45 PM
I found this is one of the things that drew me into late era Cage. Also while Cage would not agree with this I found myself more and more thinking about the amount of noise pollution we're subjected to, further drawing me into these type of pieces. This in part due to how much of the music of Frozen and Moana I've been forced to hear :laugh: I can't even imagine going back to living in a busy city, I'm so thankful to be in a quiet part of the country.

Like I found the Steffen Schleiermacher Complete John Cage Piano Music box, and thought a lot of Cage's early deliberate compositions weren't really all that interesting.

I'd like to hear more of the late Number Pieces composed for larger numbers of musicians but these seem to be hard to come across even on Youtube or their algorithm stinks.

This live performance (at the commissioning venue) of Fifty-Eight is what turned me into a Number Piece enthusiast. It's on an old (1993) hatology CD. Things that would normally be considered extraneous noise (coughs, child crying) seem to fit in perfectly in this case?!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n39qp5BHL-U

The same site ("Wellesz Theater") also has Sixty-Eight : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bxk87NL4oyc
Title: Re: John Cage's Number Pieces
Post by: hvbias on September 17, 2021, 06:14:30 PM

This live performance (at the commissioning venue) of Fifty-Eight is what turned me into a Number Piece enthusiast. It's on an old (1993) hatology CD. Things that would normally be considered extraneous noise (coughs, child crying) seem to fit in perfectly in this case?!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n39qp5BHL-U

Just finished hearing this, quite interesting, thanks!