Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre

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“In my fairly limited exposure (some 10 recordings, I think), I've come to greatly enjoy Cage's late number pieces. Indeed, I have a fond wish to hear as many as possible, listening side by side (or atop one another!) to at least begin to develop an appreciation of what's possible within them. The score is laid out in "time brackets", with symbols the musician has chosen to apply to his/her instrument. When the symbol occurs, the instrument is played. As Cage, observed, "Whenever there is no activity, simply listen, as listeners to the finished recording will, hearing the sounds wherever they are."

And silences occur, sitting like pools among the bouts of sonic activity which, in themselves, vary a great deal in volume and mode of attack. It actually gets quite vociferous at times, much more so than I'd come to expect out of these pieces but, upon reflection, there's no reason not to, not to break from the buoyant calm every so often. Tam-tams, a zither, bowed metals, soft chimes, other jangly things, sometimes sounding almost electronic...its a 74-minute stream, with stoppages, and it's lovely. I'm not sure what else to say except that it's a fine testimony to Cage's intuition on the chance distribution of those time brackets as well as this quartet's sensitive, yet forceful, rendition.

I found myself absolutely absorbed throughout--a wonderful recording.”                  

                                                                                                                                   Brian Olewnick, Just Outside

“A year before dying, John Cage wrote “Four4” for a quartet of percussionists, leaving to them the choice of the specific instruments. Without rehashing the “time bracket” grounds upon which the piece is founded – plenty of literature exists on the subject, and I’m not adding further blah-blah – let’s just say that this and other compositions of his late period are probably the ones that better gratify the need of balance of hush and sound we yearn for. This version, featuring a level-headed reading by Simon Allen, Chris Burn, Lee Patterson and Mark Wastell, is centred on a well-definite contrast between the timbres of the utilized sources; even if the latter are left unspecified, a tam-tam or a set of cymbals cannot be mistaken for anything else, and for my own taste the sections in which the gong wraps the whole room with its tremendous murmur are those that make me grind to a standstill. One remains instead slightly deluded when extended quietness is ruptured by harsher, or plain insignificant textures – there’s a moment somewhere in which I envisioned the presence of an espresso machine. However, these 74-plus minutes comprise enthralling reverberation to spare, halfway through Wastell’s Vibra series and Organum’s mantric abrasiveness. Still, it’s in loneliness – soft as a whisper and in total stillness – that this CD becomes a veritable treat, the perfect match to the inside pumping of your heartbeat.”                      Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes

“Another Timbre celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of John Cage's influential work "Silence" by releasing  "Four 4" , a work written in 1991, the year before Cage died. It was written for four percussionists, but the composer in his typical way, chose to let the musicians decide which instruments to use! By selecting the general instrumentation, while still allowing players to choose the specifics freely, Cage showed that he does not really lack interest in how the music should sound, he gives up only on the detail of the choices.  So his ego drew back, but - paradoxically - that doesn’t mean that he allowed that it should sound like just anything. Cage was not a pronounced friend of improvisation, or rather, he saw it only as one of many methods.

These days the elements of silence, style and repetition are often used within improvisation.  Without thinking about it, improvised musicians work with sounds and materials that are often reminiscent of Cage’s music. In this piece he withdrew having created a meagre economy of musical means for the players to explore. He used so-called "time brackets" in the score, determining only how long the piece should be.  In "Four 4" he lets the first player start his "time bracket" choice somewhere between 0'00 and 1'00, but it must end somewhere between 0'40 and 1'40. When such different "time brackets" are used for multiple players, the result will vary substantially in each realisation, and that leaves the performers with an enormous amount of artistic nuance and sensitivity with regard to each other's playing. This method creates a narrow limitation on one plane, but leaves things wide open on another dimension.

This performance opens with 30 seconds and ends with another 90 seconds of silence, or rather of inactivity by the musicians. This extreme openness of structure inevitably creates a relationship with so-called free improvised music. The soundworld  that is heard is significantly interwoven with the kind of low-dynamic gestures that we are used to in improvised music. As soon as the performance begins we sense both a slowness of pace and an energetic rhythmic repetition that moves between the instruments (and especially the very special timbres produced by Chris Burn’s piano).

The piece sounds as  transparent as improvised music often tends to be. It's also good to hear how a piece with written instructions can sound playful at times so that the pauses seem to vibrate with sounds.  Paradoxically, this recording of Cage which is a tribute 60 years after  "Silence" provides the clearest evidence of how alive Cage is within today's music.  The musicians, seasoned within improvisation, have brought with them a sense of nuance and group interaction so that Cage’s work is taken into a completely different rhythmic and tonal space than usual.  So let Cage think what he wants about improvisation, but these improvisers have developed his sound gently and firmly in their own way.”

                                                                                                                                        Thomas Millroth, Sound of Music

“This version of the very late Cage piece for four percussionists (it was composed in 1991, a year before his death) was realised by a quartet of improvisers, at least two of whom perhaps wouldn’t immediately strike you as percussionists. The group consist of Simon Allen, a straight percussionist I believe, whose music I have not come across before, Mark Wastell, who plays the tam tam on this disc, percussion with a minimal slant, Chris Burn, who plays the inside piano, albeit it in an often percussive manner, and Lee Patterson, whose sound sources are not detailed but I hear things fizzing in glasses of water and other things burning here, so a percussionist only in a fairly wide sense of the term. This matters not though. Cage’s score essentially allows the musicians a fair amount of scope. They get to pick the sounds they use, and with a few chance elements thrown in, they play a small selection of sounds that they chose before hand in time brackets randomly chosen by Cage using a computer programme. So throughout the seventy-two minute long work extended sounds of one kind or another slip and slide across each other, sometimes two or three sounding at once, quite often none sounding at all, and so we get to follow Cage’s instruction to just sit and listen until the next sounds arrive.

The thing about this piece, as I find with the majority of Cage’s late “Numbers” scores, is that how good it is, or how exciting/beautiful/interesting (delete as appropriate) it may sound is entirely reliant on the advance selections made, firstly the selection of the musicians- a poor quartet with little understanding of the work would sound terrible very easily here, and then the selection of sounds by each musician. Some advance consideration must be made, albeit it perhaps subconsciously, about how the sounds might all fit together. So all of the sounds here are generally either soft, extended, droning choices, or gritty repetitive patterns that add texture, but the occasions when two or more sounds don’t fit together nicely are few and far between, though when they do occur they stand out a mile. the sounds here on this new realisation are rich and finely detailed, perhaps not so far from the sounds the musicians usually improvise with.

The sounds are all quite lovely, often hard to assign to any one of the quartet, but they glow with a warmth that gives the CD a feeling of slow, methodical beauty. There are several lengthy silences in there as well, and coming between the little gusts of acoustic sound they are always a welcome breather from the storm. These ’silences’ or rather, opportunities to just listen are often quite long, and sometimes feel unexpected, but such if the random nature for the composition. The element of surprise is what makes this kind of composition realisation so intriguing.

So, this isn’t just a disc for Cage completists. The sounds are often thoroughly beautiful, and where they cross and blend their attraction is only enhanced. The choice of improvisers to create the music allows a flexibility in the sounds, choices made that perhaps would never have been made by a quartet of more traditional contemporary composition musicians. A very nice CD then that brings a fresh look to Cage’s numbers pieces.”                   Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear

at34        John Cage    ‘Four4’

               for four percussionists

Simon Allen   •   Chris Burn   •  Lee Patterson  •  Mark Wastell

74 minutes

recorded in Belsize Park, north London, January 14th 2010

youtube extract


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