In Memoriam John Cage (1992)
original performance ca. 15:00
bowed pianos, crystal glasses, tam tam, whirly tubes, and percussive sounds
In Memoriam John Cage was created a month after the composer's death. It is a slowly moving, unearthly soundscape inspired by an ice-storm I experienced in Georgia. The weather had been very rainy and overnight temperatures plunged. In the morning, all of Athens was covered in ice--a hush fell over the city as roads were impassable and even walking was dangerous, yet the landscape was ethereally beautiful as the bright sunlight reflected off of the frozen trees and buildings. The city was shut for several days, and the ice storm became worse--raining in the early evening, freezing at night and continually adding layers of ice to everything. Eventually the ice overwhelmed the trees and loud cracking was heard all around as their branches snapped and fell to the ground. The counterpoint of experience was truly remarkable and speaks directly to Cage's aesthetic of interest in all sounds.
In Memoriam John Cage was created for the Contemporary Music Workshop and consists entirely of a verbal score.
The piece begins with several players at one or two pianos on stage, damper pedals depressed throughout. A single low bowed piano note, held as long as possible, starts the piece. Gradually and slowly, other players join--all in the low register, moving slowly and allowing the texture and dynamics to naturally grow and fade. Players should move up and down the strings, activating the different harmonics. The bowed piano notes sound continuously throughout the pieces. A large tam-tam, placed in the center of the audience, plays occasional notes with a superball mallet rubbed across the surface of the instrument; this creates a low, moaning sound. Each individual tam-tam note should be well separated in time from the others. At the rear of the audience are a large number of crystal glasses, each tuned to a different (but not equal tempered) pitch. Several players play these independently, again allowing the texture and dynamics to grow and fade naturally. There may be silences between notes. Four performers with whirly tubes tuned to different pitches stand in the corners of the room and begin playing, one by one, some time after the crystal glasses have started. The whirly tubes should be played as continuously as possible, activating only the lower partials. All of these sustained sounds should move and change slowly and with solemnity. A final layer of short, loud percussive sounds is created after the totality of the sustained sounds is reached. Several players, carrying instruments/tools capable of creating single short, loud sounds begin to circulate around the audience, some moving in a clockwise direction, others moving counterclockwise. The movement begins silently, and only very gradually and randomly are the percussive sounds added, increasing slightly and slowly in frequency to a midpoint and then becoming more intermittent, ultimately ceasing entirely as the percussionists move either to the backstage or rear of the audience. At no point should a sense of pulse or regularity be created. (Possible sound sources are woodblocks, slapstick, leather belt, a large book being slammed shut...) If desired, lighting effects may be added, although the room should on the whole be quite dark--as dark as possible with only enough light for the players to see. Additional layers of sound or theatrical elements may be added as desired, in the spirit of Cage's work. Ideally a performance lasts at least 15 minutes--it is crucial that nothing seems rushed, and that even at the height of the percussive sounds there still be "silence" between those attacks.
In Memoriam John Cage was premiered by the Hong Kong Baptist College Contemporary Music Workshop on November 17, 1992; Hong Kong Baptist College.