Saturday, December 12, 2009

Around and about

Stockhausen's intuitive pieces, From the Seven Days, are more than historical oddities; they continue to interest creative musicians and spur new perspectives. In February 2009, a group of five improvisers whom I've discussed before, including Werner Dafeldecker (of Polwechsel and Autistic Daughters) and Kai Fagaschinski (Magic I.D., among others) performed the most severe of the set, Gold Dust, at a conference on music and poverty, and a recording has been posted at the conference web site. Gold Dust asks the performers to fast and live in silence for four days, then play single sounds without thinking and without conversation beforehand, which the organizers related to the overall theme of the conference. There's been some discussion of this piece at IHM, and the recording is very well done.

Another of my ongoing topics, John Cage, has also been the subject of recent activity. Fellow blogger DaveX of Startling Moniker mostly performs in the radio booth, but he was persuaded to participate in a Cage festival at Southern Illinois University with premiere of Cage's piece Knobs, originally published in the liner notes of the Nonesuch LP of Cage and Lejaren Hiller's HPSCHD. He wrote up his experience here.

And finally, via the Silence mailing list, here's a recording of one of Cage's last works, Four 6, a recording from a concert in Greece devoted to Cage's work organized by Dionysis Boukouvalas. One of the number pieces that Cage composed toward the end of his life, this one leaves the choice of sounds completely open; each performer chooses twelve different sounds with fixed characteristics, which are played within flexible time brackets. Boulouvalas doesn't specify who performed what, but I hear various percussion sounds, an accordion, and a sax. There was a nice album this year that included four British improvisers performing Four 6, to which this recording is an interesting foil. Both Four 6 and Gold Dust demonstrate the dissolving boundaries of classical and improvisational music, and recordings like these ensure that the music stays alive.


maready said...

Thank you for the link to this performance of Cage's Four6. I haven't heard it yet (it's downloading) but should leave a comment before I forget. I've come to think that Cage's last decade and a half comprise his greatest work, the Freeman Etudes, Etudes Australes and all of the "number pieces" are simply a phenomenal and unsensational, very disciplined and sober application of Cage's earlier ideas. After all the brouhaha of the 60s and early 70s, he finally seemed to compose music that combined his loved of freedom and insistence on the musician's personal responsibility by creating these pieces that require virtuosity and extreme effort to pull off ... resulting in some of the most delightful (the Etudes) and beautiful (number pieces) music composed in the last century.

Thanks for the link and for the recent discussions of the point where Stockhausen and improvisation met and, afterwards, parted.

DaveX said...

Looks like I'll have to get back to visiting IHM-- it's a persnickety place, but sure has some good discussions!

Boom said...


I recently listened for the first time to the two pieces from Aus den Sieben Tagen recorded by Ens Musique Vivante under Diego Masson (with Stockhausen, Kontarsky on board). I found it difficult to get absorbed in that recording (unlike, say, Kurzwellen, Mixtur or Mantra), but I wonder if it is more a matter of very unresonant electronic sounds (typical of early recordings of e-music - e.g., Switched on Bach was terribly "dead" sounding) than a matter of musical substance.
I wonder if you know this recording, and if so, if you found it revealing.

Caleb Deupree said...

Hi Boom,

Sorry for the long delay in the response. I had another listen to these recordings, and I see your point about the unresonant sounds. But most of the instruments in these performances were acoustic (piano, bass, sax/clarinet, percussion), with only one purely electronic instrument (Bojé's elektronium) and one electronically modified acoustic instrument (Fritsch's viola). The electronic technology for live performance was extremely primitive, limited to volume controls and filters. On these two recordings (as opposed to the ones collected on the Verlag box), Stockhausen engaged in some panning effects, but no delay or reverb units which might have provided some depth or resonance. Unfortunately, AFAIK no concert recordings exist for the most famous performances, such as the dome at the World's Fair or the caves in Lebanon, so these documents represent the best that 1969's recording technology could do. I think they compare favorably with other live electronics from the same period, such as Cage and Tudor, AMM, MEV, or even some of the more outside rock groups (e.g., Grateful Dead). All of these are very dry and raw by contemporary standards.

Boom said...


Actually I had my "Aha" moment with that recording since my initial comment. I suppose it sounded "unresonant" only because I was still not used to the "authentic" sound of early electro-acoustic recordings.
Now I simply love that recording, as I do Kurzwellen and Mixtur. As I told Maready, I find these "process" works from the 60s even more impressive as evidence of KHS' musical greatness than his exhilarating "stunt pieces" from the late 50s (Gruppen, Carre).