John Cage | The 10,000 Things (I Ching Edition)

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The 10,000 Things (I Ching Edition)

by John Cage

CD: Grammy Nominated first recording of this fabled midcentury masterpiece featuring composer's actual performance. USB: over 25 hours of every combination of his 5 pieces 45’, 26’1.1149”, 27’10.55”, 31’57.9864” & 34’46.776” using custom I Ching Player.
Genre: Classical: Contemporary
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  Song Share Time Download
1. The Ten Thousand Things
John Cage, Vicki Ray, William Winant, Aron Kallay & Tom Peters
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45:18 album only
2. Intro To "45' for a Speaker"
John Cage
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5:08 album only


Album Notes
• Grammy Nomination for Best Chamber Performance 2013 •
This recording was inspired by the discovery of a long lost 1962 recording of John Cage reading his 45’ for a Speaker, and the recent technical ability to present his five compositions that make "The Ten Thousand Things" [45' for a speaker, 26'1.1149" for a string player, 27’10.55” for percussionist, 31’57.9864” for prepared piano & 34’46.776” for prepared piano] in every conceivable combination, resulting in an infinitude of variations, as per the composer’s wishes.

While the CD presents just one of an infinite number of possible realizations of the simultaneous performance of all five pieces, the special USB 'I Ching Edition' enables the performance of any one of the (5) solo works alone; or if one chooses, any combination, also making possible (10) duos, (10) trios, (5) quartets, and (1) quintet. And each performance itself is recombinant, that is, the 28 sections of each composition are rearranged such that they are played back in a different order, while the spaces between the sections are also altered. That makes (31) completely different compositions, over 25 hours of glorious 24bit/96Khz High Resolution sound: only the solo works retain their original form - all else changes, creating an infinite kaleidoscope of musical invention where nothing is the same twice.

In September 2012, as part of Jacaranda Music’s "Cage 100 Festival", these performers (with the producer taking Cage’s part) premiered The Ten Thousand Things at the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club where Cage gave his first public performance in 1932:

“Pianists Vicki Ray and (Aron) Kallay, bassist Tom Peters, percussionist William Winant and reciter John Schneider were exquisite. Every sound sounded considered, alive, worthy of our wonder.” Mark Swed, L.A. Times

This recording was made soon after.

"Even though John Cage was notoriously averse to recordings, he would nevertheless have loved this. He would have found it, as I do, a marvelous realization of what he was aiming at fifty years ago. An interactive computerized version of The ten thousand things is the fulfillment of a dream he didn’t even know he had." James Pritchett, Music of John Cage (Cambridge U. Press)

(USB edition for Mac OS X 10.5.8 or higher, PC Windows available upon request)


to write a review

James Pritchett (author of The Music of John Cage)

"The ten thousand things" fulfilled
This week’s mail brought the new recording of John Cage’s The ten thousand things from MicroFest Records, and a beautiful thing it is. The ten thousand things is the collective title for a set of five pieces that Cage composed in the mid-1950s. The pieces share a common underlying time structure, general compositional approach, and titling convention. Their individual titles express just the duration of the piece (calculated down to the ten-thousandth of a second) and performer required:
31′ 37.9864″ for a pianist
34′ 46.776″ for a pianist
45′ for a speaker
26′ 1.1499″ for a string player
27.10.554″ for a percussionist
“The ten thousand things” is a phrase representing the diversity of the creation that one often encounters in Taoist writings and similar sources. Cage’s concern in the early 1950s was how to create compositional procedures that would embrace the wide universe of sound; how to compose in a way that would allow a great diversity of musical events to arise spontaneously from the underlying creative power of silence. This set of pieces was the culmination of his initial chance music, a final expression of what he could do with sounds tossed into rhythmic structure by chance.
In keeping with the motivating idea of abundance, Cage intended that these five pieces could be performed simultaneously in any combinations. The MicroFest CD presents all five at once. Vicki Ray and Aron Kallay are the pianists, Tom Peters is the string player (double bass), and William Winant is the percussionist. The speaker is John Cage himself, via a 1962 recording of his delivery of 45′ for a speaker (there’s also a bonus track with Cage’s introduction to the talk). The performers do a wonderful job: these are very challenging pieces to play. There is a lightness and clarity in the playing that is both completely appropriate and refreshing here, not the kind of sweaty bang-you-on-the-head style that is common among some virtuoso new music performers. The performers stay out of the way and allow the bewildering diversity of musical events arise, change, and pass away continuously in front of our ears. But the truly remarkable accomplishment of the MicroFest release is the little device tucked in with the CD booklet.
It’s a USB memory drive on which is an application (designed by Aron Kallay) that presents an alternative way to experience The ten thousand things.
You select the pieces you wish to hear performed simultaneously, then set it off. The program makes a random rearrangement of the component parts of the selected compositions. The longest piece selected becomes the overall duration of the generated performance, and the application shuffles the chunks of the other pieces and inserts silent gaps to spread them all out over this duration. This is in keeping with Cage’s instructions for performance: “Any amount of this music may be played or not and in any combination (vertical or horizontal) with other parts written (for a pianist, for a string player) or to be written.” I particularly like versions with plenty of gaps in them (as shown above), which result most often when you use 45′ for a speaker as the longest piece in the mix. It can be beautiful then to mute some of the parts and get a very spacious duet for pianist and percussion, for example.
This is the ultimate realization of what Cage envisioned with this piece. His idea was for it to be forever a “work in progress”, an ever-growing collection of materials from which an endless variety of performances could be made.
MicroFest’s The ten thousand things program gives us a glimpse of that expanding universe of musical combinations, though. Even though John Cage was notoriously averse to recordings, he would nevertheless have loved this. He would have found it, as I do, a marvelous realization of what he was aiming at fifty years ago. An interactive computerized version of The ten thousand things is the fulfillment of a dream he didn’t even know he had.
On a personal note, it is also kind of a fulfillment of a dream of my own. It has been almost thirty years since I studied Cage’s notes and manuscripts for these pieces and teased out of them the method of their composition. When I did my dissertation, I did some computer-assisted simulations of Cage’s compositional process in order to validate my findings (I composed an extra minute or so of the string piece). I was fascinated by computers and using them to realize Cage-like chance music. The computerized version from MicroFest is exactly what I would have loved to have done then, and it delights me no end to see it here today.