In 1972, John Cage, accompanied by a film crew from Germany, went to upstate New York to work for 3 days in the State University of New York at Albany's electronic music studio. He carried with him three piles of tapes: (1) sounds of birds in aviaries that he had made in the prior two weeks, (2) recordings of himself singing his 'Mureau', and (3) ambient sounds. While listening to tapes of himself singing Mureau, he commented, "It makes the birds seem less ridiculous." The result was 'Birdcage', a complex, exuberant, and joyful fabric of juxtapositions of all of the sounds, to be played back in a space in which, as Cage put it, people were free to move and birds to fly.
This is an enchanting CD, every item a sheer delight. Margaret Leng Tan worked with Cage in the last decade of his life and her earlier recordings (1/92; 7/95) show a special sympathy for the magical world of Cage's keyboard music. The second of her New Albion CDs included the piano solo version of The Seasons, and Cage was honest enough to admit to her that he had help from Virgil Thomson and Lou Harrison in making the orchestral version recorded here. The result is recognisably Cage at his most poetic, evoking each of the four seasons in lovely changing colours. There are two realisations of one of the last of what are called Cage's 'Number Pieces', Seventy-Four, written specially for the American Composers Orchestra a few months before his death in 1992. Several hearings have confirmed for me that this seamless garment of sustained sound in two overlapping parts is an immensely moving document from a unique human being at the very end of his life.
An enchanting suite of ‘Early Music’ composed by John Cage and performed by Edwin Alexander Buchholz (accordion) and Joanna Becker (violin), including: ‘Dream’ ; ‘In A Landscape’ ; ‘Six Melodies’ ; and ‘Souvenir’ . Serving to upend preconceptions of Cage being more valued for his concepts than his music, this set holds some truly magickal sound organisation that requires no prior knowledge of the artist or his ideas in order for it to be enjoyed.
Though he may not be a piano superstar, Bruce Brubaker is clearly a musician to watch. On this recording of solo piano works by Philip Glass and John Cage, Brubaker somehow shifts between these two very different modernist composers to create a seamless disc of mesmerizing keyboard music. While Glass's own playing is often precise and austere, Brubaker is a different beast altogether. With him, we get a hint of Impressionism and a sense of contemplation with each note. The five parts of Metamorphosis are given shades of melancholy, along with frenzy; on the expansive "Mad Rush," Brubaker goes wild where he has to, but always returns to the piece's calming, sweet center. The piano music of John Cage is limited to just two cuts–"A Room" and "Dream"–but they, too, are hauntingly beautiful (especially the latter, longer piece).
The year 2008 marked the fortieth anniversary of Reunion, a performance in which games of chess determined the form and acoustical ambience of a musical event. The concert – held at the Ryerson Theatre in Toronto, Canada – began shortly after 8:30 on the evening of March 5, 1968, and concluded at approximately 1:00 a.m. the next morning. Principal players were John Cage, who conceived (but did not actually “compose”) the work; Marcel Duchamp and his wife Alexina (Teeny); and composers David Behrman, Gordon Mumma, David Tudor, and Lowell Cross. Except for a brief curtain call with Merce Cunningham and Dance Company in Buffalo, NY five days later (March 10, 1968), Duchamp made his last public stage appearance – in the role of chess master – in Reunion.
The story of how Morton Feldman and John Cage first met has now become elevated to the status of legendary musical folklore. During a 1950 New York Philharmonic performance of Webern’s Symphony Op. 21, Feldman decided to leave the concert at the interval. In the lobby he met Cage. As Cage says, “we both walked out of a Philharmonic concert in which Webern had just been played, and we shared the desire not to hear anything else because we had been so deeply moved.” It was the beginning of a deep friendship that was to influence both their respective creative spirits. Morton Feldman became a friend, flatmate and student of John Cage.