An Echo of Nothing: Archival Recordings From the John Cage Trust

John Cage - Sonatas and Interludes Box Set (Joshua's Wedding Reception Gift to Me Saturday May 5 2018) 01of11-1.JPG


I am so honored to have received this historic collectible as a gift from a dear friend. This is a promotional copy of the new recording of Nurit Tilles’ superlative performance of John Cage’s classic
Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano (1946-1948), commissioned in honor of Cage’s Centenary and produced in conjunction with the John Cage Trust. Commercial copies of this deluxe 3LP audiophile set were limited, (befittingly) to just 433 copies worldwide.


The performance was recorded March 21 – 23, 2011 on a Steinway Model-D Piano at The Fisher Center For The Performing Arts at Bard College under the supervision of creative directors Donna Wingate and Naomi Yang for the John Cage Trust. The set was released on September 5, 2012. Most critics agree that
Sonatas and Interludes is the finest composition of Cage’s early period – his magnum opus for prepared piano, and this release serves as the definitive archival audiophile edition for collectors and lovers of Cage’s work.


The set includes a handsome heavy hard-shell slipcase containing a custom 10-page gatefold sleeve with metallic foil stamps and imprints, archival material, a 40-page color companion book with an introduction by Anthony B. Creamer III, as well as photographs and essays by Mark Swed and James Pritchett. The discs are pressed on 200-gram vinyl with archival audio at 45RPM. The packaging is exquisite and thoughtful and the set is a wonderful celebration of Cage’s 100
th anniversary.


The John Cage Trust was established in 1993 as a not-for-profit institution whose mission is to gather together, organize, preserve, disseminate, and generally further the work of the late American composer.
It maintains sizeable collections of music, text, and visual art manuscripts. The Trust also houses extensive audio, video, and print libraries, which are continually expanding, including two piano preparation kits created and used by Cage for this composition, as well as a substantial permanent collection of his visual art works, which are made available for exhibitions worldwide. Save for a 2011 CD recording of Cage’s 1989 performance at Skywalker Ranch in Nicasio, California titled, “How To Get Started,” this is the Trust’s lone public audio release.

From the official press statement:

“If the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 marked the end of the 19th century, then John Cage’s birth that year represented the start of a new one, musically speaking. Cage created hundreds of works and to my ears Sonatas and Interludes is one, more than any other, that will stand the test of time. Like a Merce Cunningham dance, there is something new to experience with each encounter of this magnificent piece. By my count, there are over 20 recordings of Sonatas and Interludes with each performer (and production and engineering team) bringing something new to the realization. However, this is the first recording of this seminal piece ever presented in a 45 rpm format for the audiophile. 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. When Laura Kuhn and I first discussed this project we immediately locked on Nurit. Her 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. A noted filmmaker said there is no history, only historians. This recording is historic.”
– Anthony B. Creamer III (Executive Producer of the set)

Creamer contributed to a discussion about the set on the Steve Hoffman forums where he remarked, “If you have first class playback equipment you will think there is a piano in the room.” His claim is no exaggeration. The care that went into the recording and mastering of this set is top notch and fitting for an archival work such as this. Forum user ScottM praised the quality of the extreme fidelity and wide dynamics of the release.

As Creamer mentions above, Sonatas and Interludes is likely the most recorded work in the Cage edifice. As such a listener might ask why we need another recording of these works? Amazon Vine Voice member, Scarecrow notes that each performer brings their own emotive world to these pieces. And the magnificent attention toward sonic quality and archival production makes this an unparalleled and definitive edition for Cage collectors.

For musicians interested in faithfully performing Sonatas & Interludes, Jesse Myers’ Piano Studio website offers a comprehensive performer’s guide to the prepared piano for this piece.

John Cage Sonatas And Interludes – Nurit Tilles Track Listing:


LP1

1. Sonata I

2. Sonata II

3. Sonata III

4. Sonata IV

5. First Interlude

6. Sonata V

7. Sonata VI

8. Sonata VII


LP2

1. Sonata VIII

2. Second Interlude

3. Third Interlude

4. Sonata IX

5. Sonata X

6. Sonata XI

LP3

1. Sonata XII

2. Fourth Interlude

3. Sonata XIII

4. Sonata XIV and XV Gemini (after the work by Richard Lippold)

5. Sonata XVI


Packaging fetishists will also enjoy this black-gloved unboxing feature produced by Acoustic Sounds in Salina, KS for the city’s own Quality Record Pressings who produced the LPs for this set.

I have two other vinyl recordings of Sonatas & Interludes in my library. The first was pressed in 1977 on Tomato Records and packaged with A Book Of Music (First Recording). The recording is of Joshua Pierce’s performance from July 26 & 27, 1975 on a Baldwin piano.

The second is featured on side B of disc 1 of The 25-Year Retrospective Concert Of The Music Of John Cage, recorded in performance at Town Hall, New York, May 15, 1958 issued by Italy’s Doxy label.

But unequivocally, this promotional copy of the John Cage Trust edition instantly became my favorite Cage artifact. It will be treasured and enjoyed for years to come.

A very special thank you to my dear friend for this generous and thoughtful gift!

Music for Spaceports

For the last two weeks, I’ve been listening again and again to the latest two promo albums from M.Ward’s ‘Recovered & Remastered’ series and the new 10 CD ‘X-Series’.

The first specimen I ingested was the monumental 10th Anniversary Overhaul of 4ORBIDDEN MISSION.

Ten years ago, M.Ward’s remix project was privately circulated and limited to an estimated 22 copies. Bootlegs eventually surfaced and were exchanged for large sums of money, but the originals seldom changed hands and the music was lost for a decade.

This new 2CD edition is unmixed, vastly superior in sound quality, and a fantastic overhaul of the original 4OM recording. The tracks have all been lovingly tweaked, with any quality issues finally resolved, providing a gorgeous listening experience. There was also a 3rd disc with the original 4OM which included a 54-minute mix of ‘Huge Ever Growing…’ This mix was only ever meant for that set. There is a possibility that this mix will also get the 10th Anniversary Overhaul treatment and appear somewhere in the future?

05 4ORBIDDEN MISSION (10th Anniversary Overhaul) [Promo].JPG

The 40M Overhaul is brilliant, and if you’re a die-hard fan, you already know that you need this mix in your life.

But it was the second double-disc promo which intrigued me the most. The set arrived, like 4OM, in a modest cardboard 2CD sleeve, stamped with the title:

THIS IS NOT WHAT SPACE IS ABOUT
FULL-LENGTH UNMIXED 2CD
* PROMO USE ONLY *

As a tremendous fan of the original TINWSIA single CD promo, (cat# KLF MINUS-SIX), I couldn’t wait to survey this deluxe and expanded edition. I set aside some serious time for interstellar travel. No lights, minimal external stimuli, just me and my passive noise cancelling circumaural monitors.

03 This is Not What Space is About Full Length Unmixed 2CD Promo (Cardboard Sleeve).JPG

Listening to this expanded edition of Space was like settling in for a screening of 2001. Man has several rituals which must be performed to prepare himself for the journey which awaits him. Secure in my sleep chamber, I slowed my breathing and heart rate and engaged the auditory systems which initiated the listening sequence of Disc 1.

Looking back, my memory is foggy from that initial experience. There were so many sensations – moments of elation and of anticipation… but like all of the most gripping and affecting events of our lives, the exact moments blur into a vaporous and intangible haze. But it’s just as well – the incorporeal recollection is befitting of the ethereal magnificence of the recording, and enhances its metaphysical transportive effect.

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The printed insert from the TINWSIA 2CD

Upon the conclusion of Disc 1, I opened my eyes, slowly, and reacquainted my body with the sensations and properties of the physical world. I needed a cerebral and sensory palate cleanser after the first leg of the voyage, so I shook off the space dust and had a little walk about the house.

Thirty minutes later, I felt stable and tranquil enough to complete the mission. I returned to my listening pod and initiated Disc sequence 2. This time, the musical events seemed more tangible and distinctly formed. Perhaps Disc 2 was more eventful than the sparse drone openness of the introduction. Or perhaps the human mind simply requires a certain duration of preliminary exposure to adapt to a sensory foray of this nature. Whatever the case, I had a heightened sense of awareness and elucidation concurrent with the events of the second recording and I enjoyed it all the more for this revelation.

To describe the particular events of the album would be unproductive, as the very thing which makes the experience so fantastic is that so much of what transpires will be the conjurings of each listener’s own imagination. The soundstage is filled with curious and distant sounds, as well as familiar fragments from the original source recording. And every bit of it is a thrill.

There have been numerous attempts to re-envision milestone recordings of ambient music as a contemporary response to the vision of the original composer. There have been countless trance and ambient tributes to The Dark Side of the Moon, alternative, remixed, and reimagined scores for classic films like Blade Runner and Nosferatu, and (perhaps most notably), The Black Dog’s Music For Real Airports served as a modern interpretation of Eno’s seminal ambient masterpiece.

jimmy-cauty-spaceThe original Space LP (1990)

To speak concretely and critically of this recording, I can say with great certainty that it rivals not only M Ward’s original This Is Not What Space Is About mix, but that it more compellingly captures the essence of interstellar travel than did Cauty, himself in 1990 with Space. Do not misunderstand me – J. Cauty’s record is, in and of itself, a milestone of both the KLF’s legacy and of the history of ambient music as a whole. For its time, it was the best and defining realization of its genre. But the Full Length Unmixed 2CD Promo of This Is Not What Space Is About is the most effective fulfilment of Cauty’s vision. Every ambient music listener should cash in their worker units and buy a ticket for this incredible cosmic journey.

It’s one hell of a ride.