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06 September 2011

Music to Our Ears!

As everyone knows, percussion was near and dear to John Cage's heart. So, I'm especially proud to announce that Bard College, home to the John Cage Trust, has instituted a brand new percussion program within The Bard College Conservatory of Music. The John Cage Trust Scholarship -- the first of what we hope will be many to come -- was awarded to incoming percussion student, Zihan Yi.

Congratulations, Zihan!

The resident ensemble is none other than So Percussion. Yes, you read it right! Josh Quillen, Jason Treuting, Adam Sliwinski, and Eric Beach (from left to right above) have officially joined the Conservatory's undergraduate-only percussion faculty, along with their stellar, non-resident colleagues Greg Zuber, Daniel Druckman, and Jonathan Haas.

So Percussion is up to so many things so much of the time, it's virtually impossible to properly tout them here. They recently wrapped up their annual So Percussion Summer Institute (SoSI) at Princeton University, where special guests, in ad
dition to Princeton faculty composers Steven Mackey and Paul Lansky, included Matmos, Dan Deacon, guitarist Grey McMurray, and the composer Cenk Ergun (whose website I particularly enjoy).

And I know of at least seven So Percussion concerts in the upcoming season in which Cage's music will be performed: Bard College (Sept. 18), Stanford University (Oct. 26), U.C. Davis (Oct. 29, 30), Boston's Longy School (Feb. 9), Toronto's Royal Conservatory (March 2), the University of Texas at Austin (March 7, 8), and Carnegie's Zankel Hall (March 26). See So Percussion's website for complete details.

This seems a perfect opportunity to also tout Budapest's Amadinda Percussion Group, an ensemble of four Hungarian musicians -- Zoltan Racz, Zoltan Vacz, Aurel Holo, and Karoly Bojtos, all graduates of the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music -- who came together in 1984 to present masterpieces of percussion music to Hungarian audiences and to stimulate the creation of new works by composers internationally. Considered one of the most original and versatile percussion ensembles in the world, Amadinda Percussion Group has to date produced no less than six compilation CDs featuring nearly* every known John Cage percussion work.

Here's the impressive line-up of recordings, with associated images and audio clips provided courtesy of Amadinda:

Volume 1 (1935-1942): Quartet (1935), Imaginary Landscape No. 1 (1939), Second Construction (1940), Living Room Music (1940), Double Music (Cage-Harrison, 1941)

Volume 2 (1941-1950): Third Construction (1941), Credo in US (1942), Imaginary Landscape No. 3 (1942) , Imaginary Landscape No. 2 (1942), The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs (1942), Amores (1943), She is Asleep (1943), A Flower (1950)

Volume 3 (1991)
: Four4 (1991)

Volume 4 (1940-1956)
: 27'10.554" for a Percussionist (1956), Fads and Fancies in the Academy (1940), Four Dances [What so proudly we hail] (1942-43)

Volume 5 (1935-1991): Six (1991), Quartet (1936), One4 (1990), Dance Music for Elfrid Ide (1940) , Three2 (1991)

Volume 6 (1975-1991): Haikai (1986), Child of Tree (1975), Branches (1976), Five4 (1991), cComposed Improvisation (bass guitar; 1987-90), cComposed Improvisation (snare drum; 1987-90), But What About the Noise of Crumpling Paper... (1985)

*While Cage aficionados may argue amongst themselves about what works should be definitively included in such a list, the only composition I'm really referring to here is the John Cage/Kenneth Patchen collaboration, The City Wears a Slouch Hat (1942), available from C.F. Peters as EP 67479. And Cage's ubiquitous 4'33", arguably scored for anything and everything, appears on Amadinda's 1988 CD entitled simply 4'33" (Hungaroton Classic 12991).

Interestingly, neither Cage's Quartet (1935) nor Trio (1935) was conceived with particular instruments in mind. As Cage himself elucidated in a 1988 interview with B. Michael Williams ("The Early Percussion Music of John Cage, 1935-1943," Percussive Notes, August 1993), it was partly due to this that early performances varied so widely. He would ultimately fix his Trio into a work for 3 percussionists, incorporating the third movement "Waltz" in his later Amores (1943), but the Quartet was allowed to (continue to) roam free.

Cage's Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (March No. 1) for 12 radios and ensemble (1951) and Imaginary Landscape No. 5 for 42 LP recordings (1952) pose particular problems. Leaving aside the question of how to best classify LP recordings and radios according to current organological standards, Cage's Imaginary Landscapes as a whole are still not fully settled with regard to chronological orderings, titles, and instrumentations. Cage himself felt compelled early on to clarify them in a letter to his California colleague, Peter Yates, as follows:

"Now for guidelines as you request on postcard. There are 5 Imaginary Landscapes. First is on the Town Hall record. Second, I hope has been lost. It was like the first as far as instrumentation goes but fancy rather than stark. The third is for percussion orchestra and a great deal of machinery and was done at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943. The 4th is for 12 radios and is also entitled March No. 2. The 5th is on tape and is fragments of 43 jazz records spliced together." (December 28, 1959)

But, as U.C. Santa Cruz Professor of Music Leta Miller* has argued, Cage's recollections sometimes serve to further muddy what are sometimes already quite muddy waters. Miller's scholarly emphasis is on mid-20th-century experimental music in the U.S., and two of her articles on John Cage bear noting here: "The Art of Noise," in Perspectives on American Music, 1900-1950, edited by Michael Saffle (Essays in American Music, Vol. 3, Garland Publications, 2000), and "Cultural Intersections: John Cage in Seattle (1938-1940)," in John Cage: Music, Philosophy, and Intention, 1933-1950, edited by David Patterson (Studies in Contemporary Music and Culture, Routledge, 2008).

*While a significant contributor to Cage scholarship, Miller is best known for her extensive writings on Lou Harrison, especially the heralded biography, with Fredric Lieberman, Lou Harrison: Composing a World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), which was released in an updated paperback edition in 2004 by the University of Illinois Press.

But, returning to Cage's Imaginary Landscape No. 4 and No. 5, confusion be damned, as both works are happily included in gorgeous new CD and DVD releases from Mode Records featuring the Percussion Group Cincinnati entitled John Cage: Works for Percussion, Vol. 1 (2011). Included on both are not only fine performances of all five of Cage's Imaginary Landscape works, but a very spirited realization of Credo in US as well, a bit of which can be seen and heard here.

All of this is, of course, music to our ears!

Laura Kuhn