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Friday, July 29, 2005
solo cello music of john cage

I have a confession: while I've always been a great admirer of Cage's philosophy, with few exceptions (string quartet, the works for prepared piano(s)) I have not been very fond of Cage's music. Until now, that is. This CD from OgreOgress Productions presents two late cello works by Cage (from a series of what is referred to as his "Number" works): one7 [from one 13] and one8.

one7 was written in 1990, but for this recording, the sounds intended for the unfinished one 13were mapped (using aleatoric procedures) to the time bracket design of one7. one 13 may have been intended for one live cello and three prerecorded celli, using single tones chosen by chance from up to 98 possible tones.Of the two works on the album, one7 is the more difficult of the two for the listener, at least in my opinion. You have to really, really like F#, since that (or what to my synthesizer is a microtone higher) is what is played for the entire piece, broken up by silences. I find that it does grow on you, but then, I also really like Lucier's Music on a Long Thin Wire and Young's Studies on the Bowed Gong.

The piece that sold me on this album is also the more controversial of the two: one8. This was written in 1991 for the cellist Michael Bach and makes use of a curved bow that can play more than one string simultaneously. What this does is amazing: the cello can sustain solid chords of three or four notes, which would not be possible otherwise. The harmonic diversity is very rich, and the music, while not as rhythmically diverse or complex as Feldman's, is ephemerally beautiful, with sustained quiet chords that say a lot while saying very little. Interestingly, the specified duration is 43'30" (a reference to 4'33"). The work is constructed as a series of time brackets (53 in all) that specify the start/stop timings. Within each bracket is a single tone---the duration of each tone within a bracket is indeterminate, as are the dynamics and bowing. Thus, while the total duration of a bracketed note is determined, the balance of the note vs. silence is up to the performer.

The controversy relates to the choice of bow. Michael Bach, who has also recorded this work, has developed his own curved bow (the BACH.bogen) but there is no stipulation in the score as to which specific curved bow should be used. Some have questioned if a baroque bow could be applicable, or if a curved bow is necessary at all. Indeed, some previous performances of the work apparently did not involve a curved bow at all.

Interestingly, the main difficulty of the work for the cellist involves the left (non-bowing) hand. Each individual note in a chord has to be played individually, which is a challenge.

The cellist on the album is anonymous. The liner notes are very informative. My only complaint is that green on green text is hard to read.

VERDICT: extremely iPod-worthy, especially one8


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