JOHN CAGE: Sculptures Musicales – Glenn Freeman, dir. – OgreOgress (2 DVD-As)

by | Jul 20, 2011 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 1 comment

JOHN CAGE: Sculptures Musicales; Twenty-Six with Twenty-Nine; Twenty-Six with Twenty-Eight & Twenty-Nine; Eighty – Chance Philharmonic Ensemble – OgreOgress Productions – DVD-Audio (stereo 96kHz/24bit) 634479962141, 154:00 ***:
JOHN CAGE: Three; Twenty-Eight; Twenty-Six with Twenty-Eight; Twenty-Eight with Twenty-Nine – Susanna Borsch, recorders/Prague Winds/Glenn Freeman, percussion – OgreOgress Productions – DVD-Audio (stereo 96kHz/24 bit) 634479754012, 122:24 ***:
I have had the pleasure of reviewing, previously, OgreOgress’s DVD audio of some of John Cage’s “Number Pieces” with the Chance Philharmonic. This fascinating series continues with these two new additions and some of the reasons to explore this music and patiently listen are the same as any time one dives into the sounds and thoughts of John Cage.  This is music born of both a dedication to experimentation and exploration of extremes. Cage believed passionately in sound that evolved in large part due to decisions made by the performers: duration, volume, attack, sometimes even pitch and rhythm. However, these pieces also illustrate his belief that the “very” in music can serve as their own compositional building blocks; very loud or very soft, very long or very short, very high or very low – and always with the intentional use of silences as part of the total fabric of a performance.
It is good to listen to these DVDs together – or at least taking similar pieces and examining how the music from similar sources can sound so amazingly different (an experience true to the composer’s intent to be sure)  For example, on these two discs, it is quite interesting to listen to Freeman et al’s interpretation of the ensemble piece, “Twenty-Six”, then as played with Cage’s “Twenty-Eight”; then with his “Twenty-Nine”, then with all three together (“Twenty Six with Twenty-Eight & Twenty Nine”) but in both renditions. In the first disc (Ogre Ogress does not provide catalog numbers), “Twenty-Six” serves as the central work or center of a performance including “Twenty-Eight and Twenty-Nine”. On the second, the same three works form a very similar “mega-work” but with “Twenty-Eight” as the fulcrum.  The concept of creating several somewhat chance oriented smaller works that could be used together to form larger pieces is essentially John Cage invention (used also by composers such as Stockhausen, Maderna and Berio among others) It is actually fascinating to hear the very different sounds between these performances, due almost exclusively to the choices made among the performers for timbre, duration, and so forth. The work “Eighty” stands alone on the first disc as another prime example of a long, gradual, subtle work that can be used in conjunction with other ‘number pieces’ in Cage’s vision; if one wanted to.
In these two discs, there are two wholly and completely unique works that provide a very different listening experience from the large ensemble works of the ‘numbers’ series. The first is “Sculptures Musicales”, which is Cage’s homage to a concept by the French Dadaist, Marcel Duchamp, in which sounds from a variety of sources are experienced at once, as they develop and are experienced as they are. The initial listening in this realization provides a loud sustained sample of ‘white noise’ (machinery of some sort, perhaps)  The thirty-plus minutes does contain some pitched sources as well as some non-pitched and “near” pitched sources – traffic, appliances, winds, silences (where the ambient sounds of the listener’s environment are intended to become part of the experience)  This is the most unusual, the most indefinable of the Cage works in this collection, but fascinating for the concept and result that it is.
The other very unique piece in the second of these discs is “Three”, performed here by recorder artist Susanna Borsch. Traditional Baroque wooden recorders of various voices are played randomly, solely and recorded as chords – soprano, sopranino, alto, tenor bass. The resultant mélange of timbres and pitches and harmonies is at times shrill, intense and other times almost pipe organ like and quite tranquil. Ms. Borsch has a very clear and beautiful tone and can sustain pitch exceptionally well on instruments that notoriously dive flat as air pressure is let up. The performance is quite good and shows an understanding of Cage’s intent.
As in all John Cage, these discs will appeal primarily to those who already know and understand the vision; or at least find the music interesting and the concepts intriguing. The listening requires patience. One cannot get bored or bothered by extremes of volume, of pitch of duration. Mr. Freeman and his musician colleagues are clearly “in the know” and OgreOgress is to be commended for this ongoing series and for all of their dedication to the very cutting edge in the music of today and the recent past. The most unique experimenters and visionaries of the twentieth century (which history will remember as an amazingly tumultuous period) deserve to be remembered for what they did and what they believed. I do look forward to more in this series and others who are at least fascinated by John Cage should too!
[If you don’t have DVD-A capability, the discs are also playable on most standard DVD-V players…Ed.]
—Daniel Coombs

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