Where, in one evening, can one hear music performed on traditional instruments, automobile parts, radios, tin cans, and an amplified cactus? In 1957, experimental composer John Cage wrote “Where do we go from here? Towards theatre. That art more than music resembles nature. We have eyes as well as ears, and it is our business while we are alive to use them.”
To celebrate the 100th year of Cage’s birth and his extraordinary and innovative compositional legacy, the Southern Oregon University Percussion Ensembles present a concert of his works on Tuesday, November 27, at 7:30 p.m. in the SOU Music Recital Hall.
A variety of Cage’s works from his different compositional periods will be presented. To open the concert, the SOU Percussion Ensemble will perform “First Construction (in Metal)” from 1939, Cage’s first composition using fixed rhythmic structures. All of the instruments are made of metal including glockenspiel, gongs, Turkish and Chinese cymbals, almglocken (Swiss cowbells), automobile brake drums, water gong, five graduated thundersheets (thin metal shaken to sound like thunder), and piano in which the sound is manipulated by sliding a metal rod along the strings.
Also featured will be “Credo in Us”, the first composition in which Cage used radios or phonographs to incorporate music of other composers into his own. The four performers utilize radio/phonograph, gongs, tin cans, drums, and electric buzzers. The piano, performed by Music Performance major Kayla McDonald, is prominently featured and used at times as a percussion instrument by playing on the sides of the instrument and muting the strings when played.
Composed in 1985, “But what about the noise of crumpling paper” directs the 10 performers, who are placed throughout the audience, to choose two or more “slightly resonant” instruments to be performed in unison with each other, as well as a sound made by using water, paper, or other “unidentified” source. Each player follows his or her line of instructions independently, at a slow, but independent pace creating a hypnotic experience for the audience.
The SOU Percussion Quartet will perform “Living Room Music” from 1940. The performers choose “instruments”, everyday objects that could be found in one’s living room, in which to realize Cage’s rhythms. The work also includes a text by Gertrude Stein, “The World is Round”, which is presented in an almost rap-like fashion.
Terry Longshore will perform “Child of Tree” (1975), an audience favorite that features an amplified cactus as the central instrument, its spines being plucked to produce melodic gestures. Cage’s “score” is merely a set of instructions guiding the performer to use the I Ching (Chinese method for determining chance operations) to select the instruments and structure the piece, which is then an improvisation within that structure.
Percussion trio Compás (Terry Longshore, Bryan Jeffs, and Jacob Phelps-Ransom) will be joined by SOU Percussion Performance major Jordan Levelle in a performance by Cage’s most popular percussion piece, “Third Construction”, from 1941. Composed in a fixed rhythmic structure like the “First Construction”, “Third Construction” employs a variety of instruments of mixed materials including drums, tin cans, shakers, claves, conch shell, cricket callers (split bamboo), Lion’s roar (friction drum), and more. Despite its complex structure and intricate polyrhythms, “Third Construction” grooves like music that came decades after its creation.
Twenty-four performers will perform “Imaginary Landscape No. 4” for 12 radios. Two performers control each radio, one for tuning the stations, and another for controlling volume and tone. Conventional musical notation is used to instruct the performers in this unconventional piece of music, in which what the audience hears is completely unpredictable. This was Cage’s intent, and he said, “I had a goal, that of erasing all will and the very idea of success”.
And what retrospective of Cage’s music would be complete without a performance of his most controversial piece, “4’33””? Often called his “silent piece”, Cage believed that, “Silence does not exist. One simply should listen and open one's ears.”
Tickets are $5 general admission. Admission for full-time students at any educational institution is free. The Performing Arts Box Office is located in the Theatre Arts Building lobby. Box office hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and two hours prior to each performance. Tickets can be purchased with a credit card over the phone by calling 541-552-6348 or online at sou.edu/performingarts.