Cage: 108, 109, 110

Chance Philharmonic

Tamami Tono, sho

Glenn Freeman, conch shells

OgreOgress Productions

This represents the first recording of 108, 109 and 110, which are additional “number pieces” by Cage. The numbers represent the number of performers in each piece, often with superscripts to indicate the number of that particular number piece (eg, one8 is the eighth piece for solo performer). The number pieces are a series (over 50 in all) of late Cage works that often involve long tones in various combinations. The number pieces are an acquired taste, like most Cage; you either like many of them or you don’t. Personally, I find many of Cage’s number pieces to be absolutely beautiful and among the best music in his vast oeuvre. Four, which was written for string quartet, is Cage at his best. And I think that the three pieces on this album also are examples of Cage at the top of his game.

108 was written in 1991 and represents the largest forces involved in a number piece. It represents the ground material for all three works on this 131-minute 96kHz|24bit Audio DVD, since 109 is 108 combined with One8, while 110 is 108 combined with Two3. Also interestingly, the total duration of 108 (and thus, all three works on the album) is 43:30. Maybe that has something to do with the famous/infamous work 4’33”. Or not. That’s the beauty of Cage; he was always unpredictable, and everything he did had many potential meanings.

Now consider another interesting facet to this album; you get to hear the same piece (108) thrice, but it will always sound somewhat different, somewhat familiar, since it is played by itself and then combined with two other pieces. To me, that represents a similar concept to Nancarrow’s Study #48, in which the third movement consists of the first two played together, or Lubomyr Melnyk’s The Lund-St. Petri Symphony where two pieces are also played simultaneously. I also think it was put best by Glenn Freeman, who wrote me that “what john cage was going for in the number pieces … endless variation, but always recognizable … for instance, if one watches a busy chicago street every day during rush hour we see the same thing, but, it is also always different.”

So now to the music. There are some amazing parts in all three pieces, particularly (at least for me), 109. The use of the sho and conch shells is interesting, but it is the chordal structures and multiple chance permutations of the combinations of various notes that really work for me. The performances are first rate, and this is an essential album for anyone interested in Cage, his number pieces, and/or wants to experience some of the most important music of the last two decades.

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