• Title
  • Performer
    James Fulkerson, director
  • CD
    MDC 7801




When I look at the Number pieces scores themselves, I see them as a form of conceptual art – instructions which define an attitude and/or an approach with which to make sounds or to select materials. Indeed, I enjoy this approach to these scores beyond words… but I also enjoy the other activities which such scores offer, namely rehearsing (which means initially a discussion of what the texts actually mean, permit, forbid, to define with all other performers the attitude constructed by this score) and finally performing and/or listening to a performance (contemplation). As I describe these experiences of studying, preparing, performing and listening to you, I remain, once again profoundly aware that this thing called music is a non-verbal activity. A recording obviously allows every listener the opportunity of listening, of contemplating these experiences but presenting the instructions for each of the scores allows every listener the initial (and rich) experience of imagining the sound world which the instructions define. This experience coincides with the initial experience of the composer and performer by defining the initial state-of-being of the composer or performer. As in the study of geometry, this knowledge/experience is the same for everyone (creator, discoverer, performer, student).

Fourteen (1990) [for piano, flute/piccolo, bass flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, horn, trumpet, 2 percussion, 2 violins, viola, cello, bass] is sometimes referred to as a Concerto for Bowed Piano. Fourteen was commissioned by the Musikkollegium Zürcher Oberland for Werner Bärtschi and René Müller.

Dynamics are not given. If durations are medium or long, let the dynamics be on the soft and very soft side, particularly in the case of the woodwinds, brass, and sustained percussion sounds; if durations are short or very short the dynamics may be loud. Each part has its own series of time brackets, of which many, except those of the bowed piano, have been omitted. The bowed piano part is not to be covered up except on occasion very briefly. Let the bowed piano part be an unaccompanied solo, one which is heard in an anarchic society of sounds. Bracket times are in lightface when they overlap adjacent brackets. At such points the performer must find a solution that accommodates one bracket to the other. The percussion instruments are distinguished from one another but not named. They should all be very resonant and are bowed or played with a tremolo such that the individual attacks are not noticeable. Suitable instruments are like the following: Chinese and Turkish cymbals, Japanese temple gongs, tamtams, thunder sheets, bass marimba tones and Balinese gongs (upside down on pads).

Seven (1988) [parts without score for flute, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin, viola, cello] was composed for the Boston Musica Viva, The Voices of Change in Dallas and The San Francisco Contemporary Chamber Players. The instructions for this score are notable in that they instruct the players to create sounds in ways which they may appear to lack the requisite physical control or an adequate traditional playing technique. This ‘need to show that one plays well’ is something which many performers cannot relinquish!

There are twenty time-brackets, nineteen of which are flexible with respect to beginning and ending and one, a different one for each part, which is fixed. For the piano: each ictus (chord) in a single staff is to be played in the order given, but in any relation to the icti in the other staff. Some notes are held from one ictus to the following one. A tone in parentheses is not to be played if it is already sounding. One hand may assist the other. For the percussion: use four different frictional sound producing means: long bamboo or other sticks, metal rods or thick wires, chairs or tables etc moved while in contact with the floor; plastic cups or pots against walls or doors; cymbals, gongs, piano strings, etc. bowed; bowls including Japanese temple gongs, and goblets, set into vibration by friction around the edges; etc. For the flute and clarinet; Rather than being switched on or off, let the tones be “brushed” into existence as in oriental calligraphy where the ink (“the sound”) is not always seen or, if so, with changes of intensity. Use unconventional fingerings. For the strings: Play col legno tratto, the fingers holding and turning the bow with fairly loose hair.

Ten (1991) [for flute, oboe, clarinet, trombone, percussion, piano, 2 violins, viola, cello] was composed for the Ives Ensemble.

Single tones or any numbers of them in flexible time brackets. The time brackets overlap (the sounds may be long or short, rapidly played or slower). For the percussion: instruments numbered but not specified. In choosing an instrument try it for both short and for long sounds (within which long sounds individual attacks are not heard). For the piano: the single low strings may be normally plucked; the higher strings will need a plectrum. Numbered parts of the piano construction (bars and box) are not specified but are chosen by the pianist. The keyboard aggregates may be sounded together, partly sustained unsounded by pedal (as in Winter Music), or entirely sustained by pedal and sounded by manual gliss. on strings as in the piano music of Henry Cowell. All other instruments play micro tonally. Between two half steps six degrees are notated. Phrasing, use of silence, articulation is free. But only play the tones that are written once. Search with them for melisma, florid song. When durations or phrases are long, keep the amplitude low. Short sounds can be of any amplitude.

Three2 (1991) [for 3 percussionists] was composed for Michael Pugliese and The Talking Drums. This performance was realized entirely by Tobias Liebezeit by means of multi-track recording.

Ten time brackets, all but one with flexible beginnings and endings, for three numbered but not specified instruments. Dynamics are free for short sounds, on the soft side for long ones.

The first three scores are reasonably clear examples of what I described initially. I will look more closely at Three2. There are three different players, each with ten opportunities to play on ten occasions using three instruments of their own choosing. Cage doesn’t select the instruments to be played nor the lengths and when to play has been selected randomly by a computer program. What is the composer doing? What does he seek to create? He seems to relinquish the decisions that one expects from the composer? He can’t suggest that this “structure” is somehow special since at best, it ensures a random sequence of occurrences. His actions, in fact, guarantee that I will hear a random collection of sounds. Any 'meaning' that I find here qua structure or some other significance is something created by my own mind - not the composer's (or performer's?). I am permitted to “note” to myself events which are occurring. Can there be such a thing as a good or bad performance? Is there a difference between listening to my environment and listening to this performance? Will I listen differently to my environment after the experience of this music? And what of the fact that this interpretation is made by multi-tracking one player? James Fulkerson, 2006

1. The Number pieces of John Cage are performed without a conductor. Each player is responsible for following his/her set of instructions, his/her individual part, performing within his/her individual time schema – indeed, Cage’s own brand of anarchy! Two sets of numbers located at the beginning and end of each activity or pitch module indicate the duration within which an event / pitch must occur.

FIVE : Player 5 - [for Event #1] 0’00” - 0’45” [Music stave containing one note] 0’30” - 1’15”

0’00” - 0’45” would indicate that one begins the material/ action within the boundaries of these time points. 0’30” - 1’15” would indicate that one stops the material/ action within the boundaries of these time points.

2. Performance instructions in each of the Number pieces are similar to those in all of the others - but also contain slight differences.

Recording data

JOHN CAGE FOURTEEN–SEVEN–TEN–THREE2 The Barton Workshop James Fulkerson, director

1 FOURTEEN (1990) 19:51 for piano, flute/piccolo, bass flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, horn, trumpet, 2 percussion, 2 violins, viola, cello, bass

2 SEVEN (1988) 19:59 for flute, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin, viola, cello

3 TEN (1991) 29:56 for flute, oboe, clarinet, trombone, percussion, piano, 2 violins, viola, cello

4 THREE2 (1991) 09:00 for 3 percussionists

John Anderson: Clar 2,3 Bass Cl 1 Andries Boelens: Oboe 1,3 Laura Carmichael: Clarinet 1 Frank Denyer: Piano 1,2,3 James Fulkerson: Trombone 3 Nina Hitz: Cello 1,2,3 Marieke Keser: Violin 1,2,3 Wim Konink: Percussion 1 Geert Jan Loot: Trumpet 1 Tobias Liebezeit: Percussion 1,2,3,4 Eleonore Pameijer: Flute/Piccolo 1 Jacob Plooij: Violin 1,3 Elisabeth Smalt: Viola 1,2,3 Jos Tieman: Bass 1 Jeori de Vente: Horn 1 Jos Zwaanenburg: Flute 2,3/Bass Fl 1