John Cage: Solo for Voice 58; 18 Microtonal Ragas

Amelia Cuni: dhrupad vocals
Werner Durand: drones/electronics
Federico Sanesi, Raymond Kaczynski: percussion

Other Minds

In 1970 or thereabouts, Cage wrote his Song Books, a collection of 90 vocal/theater pieces. Solo for Voice 58, from the Song Books, amounts to a collection of pitches upon which the vocalist can improvise, and include microtones. From this raw material are derived the 18 Microtonal Ragas, and this is a fascinating and often beautiful album.

The vocalist, Amelia Cuni, is nothing short of amazing as she puts forth a virtuosic performance in conjunction with three other musicians on electronics/drones and percussion. At first, it sounds like a lot of Indian raga music for voice, but then one notices some subtle, and not so subtle, differences. In my opinion, the use of microtones fits in very naturally. While this could have amounted to mere chinoiserie, the musical instincts of Cuni and her colleagues, along with the freedom afforded by Cage himself, make this a very individual and wonderful composition, one which acknowledges the influence of Eastern musics without imitating them for the sake of cheap imitation (hmmm…”cheap imitation” sounds like it could make for a good title of a future composition).

While I don’t find the 18 Microtonal Ragas to be as compelling for me personally as, say, Four or Postcard from Heaven, this is still a very important and compelling release on the Other Minds label. The performance is definitive, and I could not imagine anyone else coming along and outdoing the amazing performance that is represented on this CD.

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