Cage's "Ryoanji" (1983) was famously inspired by his visit to the Japanese rock and sand garden of the same name (Ryoan-ji, "Peaceful Dragon) in Kyoto in 1962. He remarked at the time that the fifteen stones arrayed in the sand could have been laid virtually anywhere and the effect, of tranquility and contemplation, would have been about the same. Scoring "Ryoanji" some 20 years later, he traced the outlines of fifteen stones on paper, the other variables (placement, pencil hardness, number of iterations, etc.) being determined via his trusty I Ching. It went through various permutations, ultimately allowing for any number of wind instruments (and voice) and percussion. The winds follow glissandi as they trace the arcs of the stone imagery, inevitably conjuring shakuhachi, though the precise sounds formed are up to the musician; the percussive parts are strictly notated and evoke Kabuki and Butoh dance.
The performers on this 1995 session, recently re-released, are Robert Black (contrabass), Eberhard Blum (flute), Iven Hausmann (trombone), Gudrun Reschke (oboe), John-Patrick Thomas (voice) and Jan Williams (percussion). For about an hour, the percussion (simultaneously struck muted gong and some fairly deep drum, it sounds like) tolls irregularly but consistently while the long tones, generally of a wistful if not mournful aspect, float above. The voice doesn't enter until about 22 minutes in but when it does, it casts a shadow to which the winds respond; matters become more agitated, as though a ghostly spirit had disturbed the premises. Soon, the vocal is multi-tracked, spirits swarm, but the garden's calm prevails and things settle back into timelessness. There are some especially lovely moments when the trombone plows into its depths, its bass purrs sounding very, very content.
The recording is fine, the performance sensitive. One can't ask for too much more — just let it wash over you and transport you to that garden.
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