I received a message from a friend today, telling of a performance by Glenn Branca in new york that is to happen soon, and inquiring as to whether i’d like to attend. As I can’t stand not knowing precisely what I’m getting into (especially when in nyc) in terms of music, I looked it up. the piece turned out to be “Indeterminate Activity of Resultant Masses”. I searched around for clips, and found a boomkat listing for the album and was surprised to find that said album contained an apparently venomous audio critique by John Cage. After some more net digging I was about to find the audio clip on ubuweb (of course!) which I present to you here.
Now, in general, I side with cage based on what he says here about musical politics, but having not heard the complete work and in ignorance of Branca’s thesis, I won’t comment further (Momus does a great job of it here already) . Instead, I wanted to offer this piece up to those who have not heard it, as a piece of music in and of itself, as while listening to it I was continually moved and confounded by it from a purely musical standpoint (though I did appreciate the text). In a way it is almost as if Cage and his foil Wim Mertens are making a live textural improvisation with the sounds of the surrounding area.
There is such an odd tension about this whole back and forth. Notice the absolutely odd timing of each phrase, as if Cage himself planned them indeterminately. How cage leaves you to hang almost indefinitely between phrases as if it could be the end, or left only with his dry rhythmic chuckle that oft times goes on just beyond the comfort level. And what of his partner? Possibly the most patient person of all time! Waiting, endlessly, for his counterpart to unfold his idea, and never being a hinderance, not even for a second. Though his flemish accent is dry, he (in his relatively few appearances) nearly rivals Cage in his sensuous working of the english language. Both men talk as if they are savoring the feeling of each word in their mouth while forming it. A sound that has a pacing and tonality that for me recalls a quiet slow solo. There is something about listening to the sound of these two men talking that especially today was a great pleasure.
Of course, one cannot speak of this “piece” without mentioning the third of it’s stars. The background noise. For whatever reason it sounds pleasingly in tune with both voices. It is a multilayered din, with the occasional clang, snatch of passing chatter, or bus sound, but the real star is the persistent short tone that repeats in the near background. Also somewhat in turn with the other sounds it provides a strange meter that seems to break up the rest of the parts into some form of process that I do not understand, but thoroughly enjoy. It is so insistent that it is almost maddening, and yet it’s imperfection keeps it standing just on the brink of annoyance without falling over. In a way it sounds like a Radu Malfatti solo sped up in it’s odd spacing and timbre.
An excellent listen, and if only for this recording, I am glad that the Branca piece exists, and that cage Attended, and that Wim recorded.