Thursday, September 27, 2012

John Cage: Song Books

Tim Rutherford-Johnson at The Rambler blog reviews a new recording of John Cage's Song Books

Sam Belinfante has created a two minute collection of video clips from the sessions which gives us something of an idea of what the songs are like:

Oh, well.

I can't give my own review, of course, since I haven't heard the 2 CD recording. But I will pose one question that always comes to mind. How do you listen to this music? Tim comments:
Song Books Mix 2(actually the final track of the CD 2) keeps 17 songs in a state of pleasing mutual sabotage for 23 minutes. It’s not as abrasive or as extrovert as some Cage performances, but neither does it allow gentleness and elegance to fade into mush.
I believe he is saying that there is something pleasing here, something of a balance between abrasiveness and gentleness? What could the connection be between the score (glimpses of which we see in the video clips) and the performance? How could you say that one performance could be better or worse? More or less pleasing? Or even, how would it be possible to detect an error in the performance? What would an error consist in? Cage always seemed, for mystical reasons, to want to deny any responsibility for the content of his music--in one clip, I believe you can see the performers tossing dominoes, perhaps to decide on different options. Cage refused to accept any traditional aesthetic judgments. So there seems to me to be a philosophical dissonance between the methods and goals of Cage and any kind of review of a recording or performance of his works.

You may like or dislike a performance because of the sounds you heard, but it certainly wasn't because the composer meant anything by them. For comparison, here is a concert performance of some of the songs:

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