John Cage Electronic Music for Piano by Tania Chen with Thurston Moore, David Toop, and Jon Leidecker, Omnivore Recordings, 2018
Contemporary music piano player Tania Chen, Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), David Toop (former member of The Flying Lizards, writer and recording artist on Brian Eno’s Obscure label) and Jon Leidecker (aka Wobbly, who has also worked with Negativland) join their forces to play and record one of Cage’s least-known and most enigmatic pieces, Electronic Music For Piano. Written in Stockholm in 1964 on hotel letterhead, the notes for Electronic Music for Piano ask the performer to select parts from his Music For Piano 4-84 and use electronic equipment. Everything else is up to the artist’s discretion. Uncertainty. Open Opera.
This type of composition has always opened a fertile, and sometimes harsh, debate between what is meant by composition and where this form meets the possibilities of improvisation. Cage’s hatred of improvisation is well known, but what are the composer’s actual responsibilities in this type of composition? Where does the compositional praxis end and does the interpreter’s contribution start? These are all open questions and whose answers, I fear, can not find satisfaction in an aesthetic approach and that depend instead on the individual experiences of the interpreters and their way of approaching the (indeterminate) Cage’s music.
This record also opens another interesting question: how much Cage’s music anticipated Noise music? David Novak writes in his excellent book “Japanoise”: “Noise feedback, then, might have been directly influenced by the well-known concept of indeterminacy developed by composer John Cage, and especially the related performance practices of Cage’s longtime collaborator David Tudor, which employed feedback systems based in homemade electronics, guitar pedals, and mixing boards. Even in these live performances of feedback- in which Tudor’s feedback systems very closely resemble Noise performance setups, and the sounds might also be considered precedent to those ofNoise-there are significant differences. Tudor used the context of feedback networks to reduce the intentional role of the individuai performer as much as possible. Noise’s feedback instead represents a transformative personal struggle, in which the performer’s intentions are subverted by an out-of-control relationship with an electronic system.”1
Even in this case it is difficult to give a precise answer. Cage has certainly released his music to a world of alternative sounds and the presence in the quartet of Thurston Moore, longtime guitarist engaged in the world of Noise amplifies the noise component, inserting the presence of an electric guitar among the “tools” used in these 69 minutes and 12 seconds of music recorded here.
In short, after more than 26 years after his death, Cage’s music continues to be discussed and, more importantly, to generate questions about our relationship with music and creativity in general. I think this is his most important contribution to the creation of a new aesthetic of music and I believe that records like this are an important cultural contribution that shows how the effects of Cage’s music and writings have reached a level of diffusion and complexity from himself hardly imaginable. We must be grateful. How we should be grateful to these interpreters and to Omnivore Recordings for this publication.
1David Novak, Japanoise, Duke University Press, 2013, pag. 156