CAGE The Works for Percussion Vol 1
Vol 43 of Mode’s Complete Cage Edition is the first in the series to survey Cage’s music for percussion, which, given the centrality of percussion to his evolving ideas about music and what it could be, opens up a new frontier for the label,
and for us.
Of course, Cage’s percussion music has been recorded in spades elsewhere, but the boast on the back cover of this CD – “Cage on Original Instruments: the first modern recording to utilise Cage’s specified 78rpm test tone records played on variable-speed phono turntables (Imaginary Landscapes Nos 1 & 2), and 78rpm records (Credo in Us)” – turns out not to be an idle one. Yes folks, historically informed practice has reached John Cage; but such dedication from a label that for three decades has meticulously documented Cage’s music, and routinely re-evaluated habitual ways-of-doing, comes as no surprise.
I’d argue that no other Cage percussion disc reconnects us with the shock of how Cage questioned every cliché about music, and why people should want to create it, as powerfully. Credo in Us drops samples of “old school” classical music – Bernstein’s NYPO Shostakovich Fifth, then Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Wagner and Suppé in a second realisation – into a cut-up of splintering percussion grooves and radio frequencies. Behind the animal physicality of Percussion Group Cincinnati’s performance, the message is clear: there’s no future in dead Europeans.
Credo in Us (1942) and Imaginary Landscape No 5 (1952) play with the thought that a score might be a collection of ideas about how to make a piece, rather than a set of formal instructions. No 5 uses the I Ching to determine how to collage pre-existing recorded sources; a first version uses period jazz recordings, a second edits Mode’s Cage catalogue: great! Imaginary Landscape No 4 (1951) for 12 radios sucks in pop music that’s very much of now. Be authentic and you’re of your time – that’s what that Cageian paradox says to me.