Monday, September 17, 2007
Somewhere around 1972, in Poughkeepsie, I discovered that the local library (Adriance Public Library) had LPs for loan. In the spring of that year, I'd discovered jazz via Ornette Coleman and, as my budget was reasonably limited around then, I tore through the jazz offerings there. I don't think they had many in stock, maybe 50 or so, but they included a number of relatively modern releases. I recall getting "The Amazing Bud Powell", "Out to Lunch" (I think "Iron Man" as well), "Mwandishi" and many others. I'd take them home for a week, go back and renew them, take 'em back home. Some good exposure to be had there.
They also had a classical section which included a decent amount of 20th century work. Between the cheap Nonesuch releases of the time and these offerings, much of my first experiences of contemporary "classical" music occurred in this period. I remember getting Varese, Stravinsky, Honegger (Pacific 231!), Prokofiev, Bartok.
I also recall borrowing a double LP recording of Cage's "Atlas Eclipticalis". My memory is of a dark blue sleeve, presumably a "night sky" kind of thing with little white dots. There might also have been a performance of "Cartridge Music" on the same album. (If anyone knows what release I'm talking about, please let me know). I didn't care for it at all. Somewhere shortly after this time, I heard Cage's "Three Dances" on the LP (Angel?) shared with Reich's "Four Organs" and loved those pieces but obviously they're much more approachable. But the "Atlas" was way too diffuse and arcane for me at 18. For a long while, I had this mental image of Cage as fluctuating between these two poles of rhythmic vitality and tedious obscurantism. Whether it was on that recording or not, I did hear "Cartridge Music" around then and liked it more but....
So I recently bought this new release of "Atlas" on Mode (the recording is from 1983) and still find it, or at least this performance, dry, academic and, in a word, boring. Whether that was also the case with my earlier encounter or I simply wasn't ready to hear the work, I don't know. Listening to the Mode release, I was trying to figure out why it wasn't working for me and I think it can be summed up as due to the phraseology of the musicians. Every tiny note or sequence just reeks of what we here around NY refer to as "uptown". The tweedy, blue-haired, old money avant garde, a "culture" that bores me to tears. Every sound bore that post-serial tincture, the total avoidance of anything to do with the world outside of academe. It strikes me as very un-Cagean. Truth be told, this tinge infects many Mode discs, though by no means all. It's frustrating, because I can easily imagine this being performed by creative improvisers and working exceedingly well.
I know Robert wrote about performances of the piece out Seattle or Vancouver way in recent months. Curious to know if he or anyone else could steer me toward renditions that contain more life than this dusty offering.