Notes and Editorial Reviews
Works for Percussion, Vol. 6
Amadinda Perc Group; New Music Studio
HUNGAROTON 31849 (72:32)
Haikai. Improvisation Ia: Child of Tree. Improvisation Ib: Branches.
But What about the Noise of Crumpling Paper Which He Used to Do in Order to Paint the Series of “Papiers froissès” or
Tearing Up Paper to Make “Papiers dèchirès”? Arp Was Stimulated by Water (Sea, Lake, and Flowing Waters like Rivers), Forests.
Percussion aficionados must be a special breed, appreciating both simple and complex rhythmic patterns as well as irregular or unpredictable rhythms, enjoying unusual instrumental textures, finding a semblance of melody in sequences of unpitched sounds. John Cage devoted a large part of his compositional effort to percussion scores primarily because they offer a challenge to the unsuspecting listener, requiring attention and discernment—and a leap of faith, perhaps, or at least a willingness to temporarily suspend one’s belief in conventional compositional systems—to follow the musical logic of, say, plucking the spines of a cactus. The cactus, and other plant materials (such as water gourds and seed pods) and types of wood (like tree branches or bamboo xylophones) are used in
Improvisation Ia: Child of Tree
Improvisation Ib: Branches
, which despite their titles are not improvisations in the jazz sense, but attempts to direct the performers away from the instrumental techniques they have developed through study, practice, experience, and habit. The result is barely audible rattling, scratching, dripping, and rustling—mysterious, intriguing, but also a bit like discovering mice in your pantry.
All of the works here, which date from 1975 to ’91 (the year before Cage’s passing), though devised from several different compositional procedures, offer unusual tone colors, sparse ensemble textures, passages of silence, and surprising formal maneuvers.
(1986), for example—not to be confused with Cage’s similarly titled piano pieces from the 1950s—uses the traditional Japanese poetry’s syllabic structure of 5-7-5 to organize brief events in space, and focuses attention on the rich, delicate sonorities of the gamelan rather than an orderly progression of motives or melodic development. The two versions of
(1987), one adding snare drum and side drum, the other only snare, rely on an involved series of chance procedures on the part of the performer to make the unexpected, disconnected plucked and sliding notes of a Steinberger electric bass (played here by guest artist Tamás Barabás) sound percussive and not typically melodic. Five
(1991) is a “time bracket” score where isolated notes from two saxophones (played by Lászlo Des and Mihály Borbély) and three percussionists hover and only occasionally overlap. Finally,
But What about the Noise of Crumpling Paper …
(1985), dedicated to and inspired by Jean (Hans) Arp’s use of paper and chance to create works of visual art, combines the two ensembles for activity resembling a quiet, reserved, ambient forest of tapping, dripping, swirling, and murmuring sounds with no apparent sense of design or organization.
Which is precisely the point. Only by committing to the experience and listening carefully can one distinguish between the different unusual sounds, and find one’s place in the unfamiliar surroundings. Though seldom noisy or aggressive, these may be among the most difficult of Cage’s works to appreciate—unless, that is, you are a percussion aficionado. You know who you are.
FANFARE: Art Lange
Works on This Recording
c by John Cage
Amadinda Percussion Ensemble
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