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John Cage

Lollipops

Review by Gary Hill

In terms of musical history, you really can't overlook John Cage. I remember taking a class on the history of American music in college, and composers like Cage were a big part of the twentieth century coverage. The school of experimentation espoused by Cage and others really plays a much larger influence on the music that would come later than I think a lot of people appreciate.

The music here, as can be said of much of the whole field of contemporary composers and creators is often strange. It is no wonder that a lot of people don't know about it. This is not music for the mainstream. In fact, I'm sure a lot of people wouldn't call it music. Yet, there is something deeply compelling and interesting about so much of it. It clearly set the stage for much of the electronic music, more experimental progressive rock and Rock in Opposition movement.

This new set compiles a number of recordings from Cage into a nice package. It has a clamshell box, separate cardboard sleeves for each disc, and a informative booklet. This music is of deep historical importance. It isn't light listening. Nor is it something that is well suited for track by track reviews. It's such a cool set, and a fitting introduction to this singular talent. It should be noted that this is definitely not progressive rock in any real sense. I've landed it there due to its creative, experimental nature and influence on the genre, though.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) in Music Street Journal: 2020  Volume 3. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2020.

Track by Track Review
Disc One
         
The 25-Year Retrospective Concert of the Music of John Cage
       
Six Short Inventions for Seven Instruments

Ambient tones bring this into being. It gradually rises in volume. In some ways I can see how King Crimson's forays into classical music were informed by Cage.

First Construction in Metal
There is a lot of clanging at play here. It's a noisy kind of trippy percussive exploration. It's strange, but oddly compelling.
Imaginary Landscape No. 1
Weird spacey textures are on display as this begins. It really does feel like some kind of alien landscape.
The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs
There is a female singing while frantic percussion is heard in the background. It gradually gets louder as it goes along.
Quartet
Busy percussion brings this piece into being. That is the driving factor of the piece.
Duo
There is a strange female vocal as this starts. That voice carries the piece unaccompanied for a time, and then percussion joins. The vocal feels a bit like a cross between opera, Native American chants and other world music. The percussion is not traditional percussion by any means, either.
Sonata I
Weird piano and percussive elements are on display here. This is quite bizarre, too.
Sonata II
Not a big change from the previous number, this feels more like a continuation.
Sonata III
This is in the same general zone as the previous couple pieces.
Sonata IV
Starting with piano, the percussion isn't as prevalent here, and joins late.
First Interlude
Somehow this reminds me a bit of some of the percussive things Bill Bruford did with King Crimson. Again, I have to think that Cage was a big influence on Crimson. There is some piano in the mix on the piece at times.
Sonata V
Another combo style piece, this isn't a big change.
Sonata VI
Odd jabs of piano are among the prominent moments on this piece.
Sonata VII
Piano seems to be used as tuned percussion (which it actually is) at times here. That's accompanied by traditional tuned percussion.
Sonata VIII
This feels very much like the last piece.
Second Interlude
While this isn't a big change, it has some more traditional piano sounds at times. There are some particularly strange and unsettling moments here.
Music for Carillon No.1
More of a chiming bell type piece, this is interesting.
Williams Mix
This an early example of the whole art of samples, loops and found sound. It's very strange, but also oddly cool.
Disc Two
           
The 25-Year Retrospective Concert of the Music of John Cage (continued)
                  
Concert for Piano and Orchestra

Here we get what the title suggests, at least in general way. This is very dramatic, and also very bizarre. This is almost twenty-seven minutes long. It's strange, but also oddly intriguing. There are parts that feel like they would work well as the soundtrack to some crazy cartoon.

John Cage and Lou Harrison
         
Double Music

At a little less than six-minutes long, this is the shortest piece on this second disc of the set. It's a percussive excursion. It also has a bit of a weird tribal vibe to it.

John Cage and David Tudor
                
Indeterminacy (New Aspect of Form In Instrumental and Electronic Music)
                        
Part One

This piece features a spoken monologue with all kinds of weird sounds as the backdrop. The effect is rather dramatic. Sure, it's strange, but there is something very intriguing about it, too. Cage's voice sounds a little like Vincent Price. This a description of Cage's music among the monologue. This piece is more than 23-minutes long.

Part Two
Essentially an extension of the previous piece, this one is a couple seconds shorter than the previous one. It has a lot in common with that number. Weird loops and found sounds seem to be used mote extensively on this one.
Disc Three
John Cage and David Tudor
            
Indeterminacy (New Aspect of Form In Instrumental and Electronic Music)
             
Part Three

A blast of piano opens this. Cage begins speaking after that. The basic concept of spoken monologue with strange bits of music are on display here. All four of these pieces are about the same length.

Part Four
This continues the concept we've established previously. It is not a big change. That said, there is a section mid-track that Asian people are likely to find offensive.
John Cage
            
Cartridge Music

This music was created using cartridges from turntables. I am sure some would quibble with the use of the word "music" to describe it, but there really is a weird musicality to it. It's like some kind of alien machine music. It's freaky, but also cool. It is over twenty minutes long.

Fontana Mix

Recorded loops and other elements make up the sounds of this piece. It is chaotic, noisy and somehow compelling. It runs for eleven-and-a-half minutes.

 
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