4’33” on the radio

Having heard Max Reinhardt’s deeply unsatisfactory introduction to La Monte Young’s Well-Tuned Piano (to put it kindly) the other day, I approached Robert Worby’s fifteen-minute talk about Cage’s 4’33” in The Essay: Five Seismic Moments in New Music (BBC Radio 3), with hope, as he has background — form — in experimental music. And it was really pretty good. Worby talked about his own first performance (on classical guitar), and discussed the way that performance is (or should be) active, rather than passive, and the shared element of listening between performer and audience.[1] And of course he mentioned the role of the environment in the piece.[2]

Worby mentions some restrictions that I have not found in a reading of the separate editions of 4’33” (David Tudor’s reconstruction of the original Woodstock score, the time-space notated Kremen score (and its slight variant in Source, and the published Peters ‘verbal’ score), especially the Peters edition, to which he refers. Worby stressed the idea that the three movements are required in all performances, and there is no such direction. He also seemed to suggest that one had to make some kind of gesture toward playing (Tudor depressing the pedal before closing the keyboard fall; Worby fingered different chords for each section in his performance). This doesn’t appear in the scores, so it isn’t a requirement that the performer do so.[3] Finally, Worby gave his political interpretation of the piece as resistant against McCarthyism and possibly homophobia. However, this, like his thoughts on the shared listening element in 4’33”, added a very welcome analytical conclusion to his narrative.

This was, given the introductory nature of the essay, a good take on 4’33”. It is certainly better by far than some of the mis/disinformation promulgated by writers in ‘academic’ publications who have never seen the score. Factually, you might get more from Kyle Gann’s book, No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage’s 4’33”. Perhaps Worby got some of his information from this book, or from Larry Solomon’s long-standing web page, 4’33”. But this is more immediate, especially for a student who is new to indeterminacy. Worby makes a great story teller; it’s well worth a listen even if you’re an old hand.

You can get this essay for a limited time (I’m not sure how long) on the BBC Listen Again pages: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06tks32

[1] At the Royal Musical Association graduate student conference at Goldsmiths College in 1989, one presenter proved his thesis that 4’33” was not a composition by sitting down at a piano, starting a stopwatch, and fidgeting for the three durations given in the Peters edition. I asked, have you ever seen a proper performance of this piece? He said he had just performed it and I replied no, you certainly did not perform it, at least not correctly. The discussion entered into social and ethnomusicological connotations of silence, which was fascinating. The presenter, a young master’s student who had obviously been given poor instruction by his advisers, was mostly silent.

[2] My personal favourite performance was at the end of the Classic Masterworks of Experimental Music Festival at the University of Redlands, 1982, which I curated. The night being warm, the stage doors were open. Given that the other pieces on the concert — Terry Riley’s In C and Frederic Rzewski’s Les moutons de Panurge — were very loud, no one noticed the sounds of the outdoors until 4’33”, when the room filled with the sounds of Saturday night on campus; the stereo sounds and happy party shouts of the boys’ dorm immediately behind the hall, and, further, the shouts and cheers of a school football game. I called this sound event an Ivesian moment in my article on time and listening in experimental music, ‘(Re)Marking Time in the Audition of Experimental Music’, in Performance Research, which is available on my Academia.edu page.

[2] I simply put the cap on my clarinet mouthpiece; when we did it in a wind band performance, we suggested putting the instruments at ‘attention’ on the players’ laps, but this was a performance decision not a score response. I discuss the distinction between the exact content of indeterminate scores and performance decisions in ‘The Beginning of Happiness: Approaching Scores in Graphic and Text Notation’, in the book Sound and Score, also available on Academia.edu.

Sound Out programme on Nature Study Notes

Perhaps, like the EMC, you were not able to get to the concert by the New Scratch Orchestra of excerpts from the Scratch Orchestra document, Nature Study Notes on Sunday, 22 February 2015. Well, here’s something to make up for it: the Resonance FM programme, Sound Out, from 20 February 2015, hosted by Carole Finer, which talks about the ways that the New Scratch Orchestra (or ‘Scratch Orchestra’, as it is called by some of the participants) approaches Improvisations Rites, the type of musical activity collected in Nature Study Notes. Hear it here: https://www.mixcloud.com/Resonance/sound-out-20th-february-2015/ . It’s a rather revealing glimpse into what the new generation thinks of Improvisation Rites and ‘improvisation and a musical life’, as Cornelius Cardew called it. Bryn Harris and Carole Finer represent the original Scratch Orchestra. Worth listening.

Jon Hassell trio on KCRW

Those fans of minimalism and ambient music might like this rare visit by Jon Hassell and his trio to Los Angeles’ KCRW programme, Morning Becomes Eclectic. The trio includes movie music guy John Von Seggern on bass and electronics and Cold Blue artist Rick Cox, whose guitar, electronics and sax work has been delighting postminimalist friends for decades. Interesting, jazzy stuff. We’re listening to it now….


Sound Out Resonance Radio Tribute to Alec Hill

Carole Finer contacted us to share news that the show tribute to Alec Hill, Promenade Theatre Orchestra and Scratch Orchestra member, composer and clarinettist, is now available on Soundcloud. There are some lovely moments in this rather funny and very heartfelt tribute: Alec Hill’s whistle solo on the performance of Paragraph 1 (and 2) of Cornelius Cardew’s The Great Learning at the BBC Proms concert at the Albert Hall in 1972; the PTO playing Hill’s Large Change Machine (1972), and other pieces. Here’s where you can find it: https://soundcloud.com/resonance-fm/14-00-00-sound-out-320kbps-4?utm_source=soundcloud&utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=facebook

Sound Out on Alec Hill

Just had word that this Friday, 21 February, at 2 pm (London time), on her great regular show, Sound Out, on Resonance FM, Carole Finer will be focusing on the former Scratch Orchestra and PTO performer Alec Hill, who tragically died last October. Guests will include John White, Hugh Shrapnel, and Christopher Hobbs — the other members of the legendary group the Promenade Theatre Orchestra — plus John Tilbury and Bryn Harris, who, with White, Shrapnel, and Hobbs, were in the Scratch Orchestra with Hill. This will be a landmark occasion, and a chance to hear from some of the most important figures in late-1960s and early 1970s experimental music and minimalism. They do not, at the time of this writing, have any details up on Resonance FM’s site, but here’s the link to the schedule: http://resonancefm.com/schedule . Resonance FM is a non-profit alternative music station run by the London Musicians’ Collective, with a large internet presence as well as their London-only FM broadcasts. If you have one thing to listen to this week, this is a good candidate!

Update: the tribute to Alec was affectionate, featuring John Tilbury, Bryn Harris, Carole Finer, and the surviving members of the PTO: John White, Christopher Hobbs, and Hugh Shrapnel. The broadcast will be repeated on Monday, 24 February, at 8 am GMT on Resonance.

Chant music

One of the rather lovely features of London’s Resonance FM is Sound Out, a Friday afternoon show hosted by former Scratch Orchestra member Carole Finer, back after a six-month hiatus. This time it’s American folk musicians, plus Michael Chant’s Fragrance of Flowers.
Sound Out is back on air after a six-month break.
Friday 10th January 2:00 to 2:45 Carole talking about and playing the music of Alice Gerrard and Beverly Smith. http://resonancefm.com/schedule or 104.4fm in the London area.

Radio 3 BBC Prom 50

For those of you who can get it, there are five more days of Prom 50: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b038l7nr

The Radio 3 information is here:


1 hour, 30 minutes

First broadcast:
Monday 19 August 2013

BBC SSO and Ilan Volkov live at the BBC Proms with Gerald Barry, Feldman’s Coptic Light and the World Premiere of Frederic Rzewski’s Piano Concerto with the composer as soloist.

Live from the Royal Albert Hall, London

Presented by Andrew McGregor

John White: Chord-Breaking Machine
Gerald Barry: No other people. (UK premiere)
Frederic Rzewski: Piano Concerto (BBC commission: world premiere)
Feldman: Coptic Light

Frederic Rzewski (piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Ilan Volkov (conductor)

Ilan Volkov brings his spirit of adventure to this late night Prom, featuring music as beautiful as it is ground breaking.

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra performs music by a quartet of visionary and idiosyncratic composers, including two premieres. John White’s Chord-breaking Machine could be seen as belonging to a tradition of experimental English minimalists, deconstructing musical material into its constituent parts and reforming as repetitive machine structures; Irish maverick Gerald Barry’s No Other People, tonight receiving its first UK performance, also draws on repetition and seemingly simple musical figures, but here to create strongly contrasting canvases of bold, wild and stark music.

Frederic Rzewski’s BBC Radio 3-commissioned Piano Concerto, tonally kaleidoscopic and stylistically far reaching, receives its world premiere, with the composer as soloist. And the concert concludes with Morton Feldman’s late masterpiece, Coptic Light, a meditation for orchestra: a beatific and spiritual end to this late-night Prom.

See what you think and let us know. We liked the White of course, and the Feldman — always good. Nice of Ilan Volkov to programme this. He’s been an enthusiastic proponent of this music for some time. And he got the Beeb to programme John White. Cool.

Okay, one gripe. We’re hoping that someday the BBC will not only programme the music, but also someday actually learn something about it; for instance, the description, ‘John White’s Chord-breaking Machine could be seen as belonging to a tradition of experimental English minimalists’. Well, duh. John White is the main man, the big daddy, the big Kahuna, the founder and leading exponent of English minimalism. He invented Machine processes and if we’re talking about any minimalism in Britain before 1980, that minimalism has White to thank in some small part or other — for Machines and other systems processes. If you don’t know John White’s minimalism, try his Promenade Theatre Orchestra music. Or his electric music. Then try some Parsons, or Skempton, or Bryars, or Nyman, or Hobbs, or Dennis, or Shrapnel, or Smith, or Lewis, or Hill, or….