The term "percussion" being used liberally (so as to encompass radios, for example) this CD bears the amusing inscription, "Cage on Original Instruments", wherein is delineated the use of "Cage's specified 78-rpm test tone records played on variable-speed phone turntables." Period instrument Cage!
Whatever the provenance of the instrumentation, this is a wonderful and enlightening recording, presenting six works, three of them given two versions apiece. We hear "Credo in Us" (twice — once with a Bernstein recording of Shostakovich and others, once with a selection of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Wagner and von Suppe, as well as contemporary radio captures) and the five "Imaginary Landscapes", with #5 represented by both period jazz recordings and with Cage's music and the fourth rendered twice. The first take of "Credo in Us" (1942) begins with the pop of the needle on vinyl, quickly followed by the precise integration of orchestrated music with the highly rhythmic percussion music Cage was creating around this period (a slight gamelan influence, perhaps, but not overt). It's the sort of thing one might guess could sound dated 70 years later, with collage effects a tired idiom, but the vibrancy shines through and there's a true sense of excitement between the ecstatic clatter and the modernist/romantic symphony orchestra. It's satiric, yes (originally intended for use in a Merce Cunningham production — the pair's first collaboration — involving a feuding married couple) but strongly so, perhaps even drowning the satire.
The disc bookends "Credo in Us" and the versions of the fourth and fifth imaginary landscapes. The latter, from 1952, utilizes jazz recordings ranging from swing to Charlie Parker, arrayed in a dense mélange while the fourth fluctuates between, classical, Beatles, static and much else. The success of pieces such as this depends, I think, on the listener's willingness to suspend themself in the radio wave ether, to imagine bathing in these invisible sounds that surround us. Percussion Group Cincinnati, the performer here, do an admirable job of achieving this sense; there's little if any of the academic flourish that sometimes mars renditions of Cage's work (often present on Mode recordings, in fact); here, things flow naturally and there's a palpable sense of "the street", of the real life inherent in Cage's music. "Imaginary Landscape #2" (1942), stands out for its delicacy, a lovely set of cadences on what seems to be largely found metal objects, including paint tins.
Wonderfully dense and intricate, suffused with a deep sense of sonic fun, this is an exceptional recording, a must for Cage fans.
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