John Cage
Music of Changes


1.5
very poor

Review

by spoon_of_grimbo USER (74 Reviews)
August 31st, 2008 | 27 replies


Release Date: 1951 | Tracklist

Review Summary: An interesting approach to solo piano composition, but one with a lofty concept which completely overshadows and undermines the music itself.

For the unitiated, John Cage was one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th Century, famous for his wildly experimental compositions which challenged the very definition of music in the modern era. Ever the contrary type, his most famous piece ("4'33"") consisted of four minutes and thirty-three seconds of NOTHING being played, which speaks volumes about the way the man's mind worked.

However, Music of Changes is a slightly more complicated affair; an aleatoric piece (that is, a piece of music where part of or all or the composition process is governed by chance) composed for solo piano. Apparently, Cage utilised an ancient Chinese text called the I Ching when composing the four "books" that make up Music of Changes. The I Ching consists of a system of symbols which is used to "identify order in chance events," and is based around "ideas of the dynamic balance of opposites, the evolution of events as a process, and acceptance of the inevitability of change" (thanks Wikipedia! Incidentally, if you can make sense of any significant amount of the article regarding I Ching, you're a far more intelligent individual than I...). There are a few theories as to how Cage utilised these texts in his composition, but the one that seems to be referred to the most (and the one I was told about by the lecturer who encouraged me to look into Cage's works) is that he tossed sticks in the air and related the pattern in which they landed to symbols in the I Ching, before using the corresponding information in the texts to determine the pitch, length, and intensity of the next note(s) to be played.

If it seems like I'm being a little vague about Cage's compositional ideas (trust me, my brief summation is NOTHING next to the lengthy essays that have been written about most of his works), you'll understand why when you hear the outcome. Imagine wandering into a downmarket jazz bar after hours and hearing the sound of the rats running across the piano; nothing but random tinkling of keys, with little to no structure or rhythm, and the (very) occasional sound of the body of the piano being hit. Mercifully, the law of averages has made sure that a few of the chords or other combinations of notes being hit at the same time are at least reasonably complimentary, so vague elements of melody and harmony are present, rather than constant dissonance, but still, these moments are fleeting, and overall this leaves very little for the listener to cling to. The four movements are only really distiguishable from each other by their lengths, and the fact that some sound a little faster than others (although with no real sense of tempo, its only the amount of notes being randomly hit in any given time that gives the illusion any part being "faster" or "slower" than another...). It truly boggles the mind to think how Herbert Henck, the pianist on this recording, was able to play such a structureless piece exactly as it was intended!

Admittedly, with Music of Changes, Cage does make the listener start questioning where exactly one could draw a line between what is and isn't music; after all, if every element of the composition is left to chance, one could argue that there's no direct musical intent, and that end result cannot be considered music, whereas others would disagree and state that any arrangement of sound, intentional or otherwise, is still music. In many ways, Cage is more a musical philosopher than a composer, a forward-thinking individual with an endless array of thought-provoking questions and experimental ideas. As such, if I were reviewing a book or DVD documentary about the composition of Music of Changes, I'd almost certainly be awarding it a much higher rating. Sadly, no matter how interesting the back-story may be, the end-result of Cage's experiments with chance composition is unable to stand alone as an interesting or enjoyable piece, musical or otherwise.



Recent reviews by this author
Matthew Reynolds Come PouringNorth Lincoln Midwestern Blood
Mike Hale Lives Like MineStereotyperider Songs in the Keys of F and U
In the Red Volume 2Ship Thieves Chris Wollard and the Ship Thieves
user ratings (11)
Chart.
2.7
average
related reviews

4'33''


Comments:Add a Comment 
Electric City
Emeritus
August 31st 2008


15762 Comments


First sentence is kinda repetetive.

Anyway good review, this sounds awful. Much like this!

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92502862

ujuj
August 31st 2008


37 Comments


you should stick to blabbering on about music that you know something about

taylormemer
August 31st 2008


4961 Comments


Don't like the review.

spoon_of_grimbo
August 31st 2008


2241 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

"music i know something about"?! so i'm guessing you're one of these elitist types who assumes that because i don't LIKE this music, i must not actually UNDERSTAND it?



i can assure you i know exactly what cage was trying to do here, but i'm not reviewing the guy's ideas, i'm reviewing the music itself. and despite the incredibly interesting, arguably revolutionary composition methods behind this piece, the piece itself is IMO bland, uninteresting, and not enjoyable to listen to.

ujuj
August 31st 2008


37 Comments


"music i know something about"?! so i'm guessing you're one of these elitist types who assumes that because i don't LIKE this music, i must not actually UNDERSTAND it?
yes please return to your mindless rock music, sputnikmusic is a place for intellectuals

Electric City
Emeritus
August 31st 2008


15762 Comments


"music i know something about"?! so i'm guessing you're one of these elitist types who assumes that because i don't LIKE this music, i must not actually UNDERSTAND it?

dude it's eliminator relax


spoon_of_grimbo
August 31st 2008


2241 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

ah, i see! i saw the post count and figured it was some indignant cage fan who joined solely to defend the guy's honour or something!



oh, and i've shortened that first sentence, you were right, i used the word "music" a shitload of times in that paragraph.



incidentally, i read about that "As Slow As Possible" thing that you posted a link to, apparently a lot of cage's later work was done more for the sake of it than to actually make a point - he'd sworn as a young man that he'd devote his life to music, and so kept composing well after he'd lost interest. if you're interested in checking out some of other stuff, he did a collaboration with a choreographer called Merce Cunningham - i can't remember what it was called, but it basically involved a dance troupe doing an interpretive dance to Cage's music (which was made using processed vocal sounds, and sounded kinda like strange wind/storm noises). my lecturer at uni showed us all a video of the performance, and it wasn't too bad.

Electric City
Emeritus
August 31st 2008


15762 Comments


I meant you use "one of the most" twice in the same sentence. Just change the second half to "famous for his wildly experimental compositions that challenged the defenition of music in the modern era." or something

spoon_of_grimbo
August 31st 2008


2241 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

good call, i've added that and kept the other change i made, i guess keeping the intro brief is better.

Mendigo
August 31st 2008


2299 Comments


i can assure you i know exactly what cage was trying to do here, but i'm not reviewing the guy's ideas, i'm reviewing the music itself. and despite the incredibly interesting, arguably revolutionary composition methods behind this piece, the piece itself is IMO bland, uninteresting, and not enjoyable to listen to.

I guess it's absurd to try to analyse Cage's music that way. And it's impossible to "rate" his music like you rate some rock album.

ujuj
August 31st 2008


37 Comments


that was just as stupid as the review, i award you 5 stars

spoon_of_grimbo
August 31st 2008


2241 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

I guess it's absurd to try to analyse Cage's music that way. And it's impossible to "rate" his music like you rate some rock album.




you're only saying it's impossible to do that because you're putting Cage on some sort of pedestal. his ideas and experiments with chance could be used in any field of art - painting, architecture, dance, etc. but the fact is - the guy's intent and focus is MUSIC. it's easy to be blinded by the ideas behind Cage's methods, but the fact remains that he's a composer, and his aim from the start is to compose MUSIC.



regardless of his unique methods, it's the music that should do the talking, and all this piece says to me is that using chance methods in composition is ineffective in the pursuit of composing a coherent piece of music.

ujuj
August 31st 2008


37 Comments


mendigo's father used to touch him in the butthole whilst listening to cage gramophone reocrds ignore him

Poet
August 31st 2008


6003 Comments


huh...didn't know Johnny Cage left the Mortal Kombat scene to make music.

ujuj
August 31st 2008


37 Comments


COMEDY GOLD

Poet
August 31st 2008


6003 Comments


yeah I know.

Anyways...nice review.

P13
August 31st 2008


1327 Comments


cage is pretentious

astrel
August 31st 2008


2615 Comments


O RLY?!?!?!?!?!

P13
August 31st 2008


1327 Comments


YA RLY!!!11!11!!!1

Mendigo
September 1st 2008


2299 Comments


the fact remains that he's a composer, and his aim from the start is to compose MUSIC

if you see it that way...
I always thought of Cage as someone who's intent is not to write music that someone might enjoy, but to explore these strange methods and experimentations, and the exploring of what you called the "line between what is and isn't music".
I do know only glimpses of his catalogue, but those pieces I know make it seem like that. and I do not want to defend him, much of what he did is more or less completely unlistenable for me and many of his ideas (especially the later ones) do seem, well, forced.
yet I think that especially his "chance-compositions" are quite interesting (not the outcome, but the idea). Every act of composing or perfoming music involves a certain level of chance, and Cage takes that to the extreme.
huh, man is it hard to write about this kind of music. I know it will be easy to make fun of that comment, but I think you got an idea of what I'm hinting at.



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2017 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy