Happy Birthday, John Cage

As I mention in last month’s “Entry Level,” September 5th would have been John Cage’s 100th birthday, and celebrations of all shapes and sizes are taking place around the world. Fans of Cage’s music are especially lucky: several exciting new releases are now available.

Here are just a few:

Australian sound artist, Room40 curator, and all-around sweet dude, Lawrence English, has recorded For/Not for John Cage as “an homage to the aspects of his life and work that have inspired me over the past two decades (ironically, those in which he has been physically absent, but philosophically more present than ever).”

It was while English and Scott Morrison were working on the score for One11 (refocused), an adaptation of Cage’s 1992 film One11, that English realized the audio material was taking on a life of its own.

Each of the pieces presented in this edition bare John Cage’s influence—some direct, others less so. The title of the edition reflects the sources from which the music was created—specifically from the One11 (refocused) project (For John Cage) and other pieces, created entirely by chance during one recording session (Not for John Cage).

The title of the film, “Entoloma Abortivum,” takes its name from a type of edible mushroom; the image in the album art is also a mushroom: John Cage was an avid mycologist.

For/Not for John Cage will be released on September 18, in CD and digital formats, by LINE.

The Japanese label, EM Records, has compiled John Cage Shock, a three-CD series of live recordings from concerts held in 1962, in Tokyo and Osaka.

In October 1962, John Cage and his great interpreter/co-visionary David Tudor visited Japan, performing seven concerts and exposing listeners to new musical worlds. This legendary “John Cage Shock,” as it was dubbed by the critic Hidekazu Yoshida, is the source of this series of releases, three CDs and a “best hits” double LP compilation. Recorded primarily at the Sogetsu Art Center in Tokyo on October 24, 1962 (with two performances from October 17 at Mido-Kaikan in Osaka), all recordings in this series are previously unreleased. A major historical trove, unearthed.

These recordings feature Cage and Tudor, accompanied by Yuji Takahashi, Kenji Kobayashi, Toshi Ichiyanagi, and Yoko Ono, performing pieces by Toru Takemitsu (Corona for Pianists), Christian Wolff (Duo for Pianist & Violinst), and Karlheinz Stockhausen (Klavierstucke X), as well as Cage’s own Variations II and the infamous 4’33”.

In addition to the three CDs, a two-disc LP version compiles highlights from the concerts. All packages include rare photos and liner notes written in English and Japanese. A major historical trove, indeed. You can find them now at Forced Exposure.

Perhaps the most exciting of all the new John Cage releases is Sonatas and Interludes, a 3LP box set brought to us by the John Cage Trust. Generally considered one of Cage’s finest achievements, Sonatas and Interludes comprises 20 pieces for prepared piano, and was composed between 1946 and 1948, shortly after Cage’s introduction to Indian music and philosophy. While there are over two dozen recordings of Sonatas and Interludes, this edition, mastered by Kevin Gray and pressed at Chad Kassem’s Quality Record Pressings, is the first to be released on 45rpm, 200gm vinyl—expressly with the audiophile in mind. Limited to just 433 (ha) numbered sets, the package includes a full-color, 40-page booklet with photographs by Chad Kleitsch; John Cage’s “How the Piano Came to be Prepared”; essays by Mark Swed and James Pritchett; and an introduction by Anthony B. Creamer III.

Nurit Tilles plays the piano.

Says Creamer: “It is my hope that listeners will marvel at the breathtaking sonics of the recording, but more than that, the superlative performance by Nurit Tilles… [H]er preparation and playing is nothing short of magnificent. And as wonderful is her playing, Nurit’s beautiful spirit comes through with verve in these grooves…This recording is historic.”

Want! Available now, the limited-edition, audiophile-approved 3LP set costs $145. You can find it at Forced Exposure or at your favorite hi-fi dealer.

Anton's picture

Aren't you about 1/3 John Cage's age now?

Have you had your 33 1/3 birthday party yet? You only get one of those.

That would call for a Monkeyhaus gala event with two turntables and a microphone!

All the best.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Thanks, Anton! Actually, my 33-1/3rd birthday was indeed held at the Monkeyhaus. It was a splendid time and I think we even enjoyed some limoncello. (Or was it orangello?)