John Cage is an enigma in American music. He is arguably the greatest 20th century composer/artist/philosopher, who had a wide ranging influence on the arts. He is also extremely misunderstood, often regarded as some sort of charlatan who tried to bamboozle the public with crazy ideas about music, including writing music with no music (4'33"). But if you delve beneath the surface, you'll find a man who dared to question the music and arts around him. He saw no point in repeating what had already been done, and looked for new ways of expression.
In his later life, he composed a series called "The Number Pieces." The title of each composition refers to how many performers, with a possible second number referring to where it sits in compositional order. Thus, One4 is the fourth composition written for one performer.
First up on this disc (a DVD-A, allowing for a 2-hour length) is 'Three.' Written for 3 performers playing a variety of recorders, it's a very slow moving and open piece. The mostly long held notes move in and out, leaving ample room for silence. The wooden character of the recorders adds to this often sounding like a pipe organ. There are 11 sections, the first (1.) at 6:45, the last (2.) at 3:39, with the rest (A. - I.) each at 3 minutes. Cage's instructions are, "one or any number of these may be played between 1. and 2." What this piece begs for is to be ripped off the DVD-A so that you can put it in shuffle mode in iTunes and hear it with the randomness Cage so loved. Susanna Borsch ably multi-tracks the three recorder parts on each piece.
'Twenty-Eight' is for a small wind orchestra. Each instrument plays time bracketed single notes. There is no conductor, with the performers moving in and out of the music seemingly at random. The next track, 'Twenty-Six (for 26 violins) with Twenty-Eight' combines to form, 'Fifty-Four.' The added strings create a much denser soundfield, and add an often ominous tone. The final track is 'Twenty-Eight with Twenty-Nine.' This time the added instruments are percussion, bowed piano, and low register strings. As can be expected, the sound is darker. Even the percussion is very legato, with no startling 'hits' to break the mood. Cage designed the pieces to be played individually, or in various combinations. Thus we get 3 different versions of 'Twenty-Eight.' All three tracks are 28/29 minutes in length.
The music on this disc is very reminiscent of later period Morton Feldman, in that it has that static quality about it--the music unfolds at an unhurried pace, all the while seeming not to be moving at all. If you are looking for thunderous orchestrations, look elsewhere. But if you are into contemplative sounds that unfold over time, this should be to your liking. Highly recommended.