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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

John Cage & Lejaren Hiller/Ben Johnson - "HPSCHD" / "String Quartet No. 2" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1969 (Nonesuch)


Of all the compositions of John Cage, this has to be the most intense or insane piece in his catalog of goodies.   Co-made and written with Lejaren Hiller, this is Cage's first adventure in the computer world that existed in 1969.   First of all the title, HPSCHD (1967-1969) is the word harpsichord reduced to the computer's six-word limit at the time.  It consists of 51 electronic sound tapes and seven solo compositions for harpsichord, all played at once.  If you have the means, you can hear the album on the left channel or the right channel, or in this case both.  This is not only the weirdest stereo/hi-fi adventure but one that is a challenging listening experience.  The irony is that the music is written for an old keyboard concept, but done in the most advanced manner in 1969.   What I get here is clearly what sounds like four or five harpsichords with various sheets of electric sounds, that at times sound like a generator or bits and pieces of melody, but very faint.  It's a noisy, full volume lease breaker of a record.  I think with respect to Cage's works, HPSCHD is the most extreme in its attack, noise, concept, and in general, Nonesuch was a brave label of its time.  The total opposite of Cage's famous 4:33.  Silence and noise.   It's 21 minutes of a relentless attack, yet, listening to it the time goes quickly.  I love it. 

Flip to the second side, and we have Ben Johnson's "String Quartet No. 2"(1962) and performed by The Composer's Quartet.  It's a work that reminds me of Schoenberg.  It's a moody work and emotional compared to Cage and Hiller's concept of making music.  It's work that is dissonant in tone, yet the sound is very sculptural to me.  I hear, but I can see it as well. It's interesting to note that Johnson was a friend of Harry Partch, and helped him build his instruments.  And he also studied with Cage as well as Darius Milhaud.  Johnson was (or still is) working on the foundation or perhaps storm, where the contemporary composition and practices took place.  "String Quartet 2" is demanding but pays off well, especially in its ending which is very serene and quiet.  Unlike the other side!