John Cage is regarded as the “pioneer and codifier of Indeterminacy” in music composition. 

Indeterminacy was a music composition technique in which the composer utilized some sort of chance procedure to determine certain sections and or the entire score. The methods of chance to create the score varied from throwing dice to I Ching to the superimposition of a music score paper over a star map to determine how notes would be positioned upon the staff. These techniques went hand in hand with conceptual compositions in which the composer suggested a concept, an idea, or other written words to inspire a performer to improvise upon that idea.  Also, many times the composer would leave the choice or choices of exactly what to play and how to play it up to the performer, so that performer made compositional and interpretative decisions so that no two performances would never be exactly the same.

Cage utilized these aleatoric techniques exclusively in his compositions from the 1950s throughout his career. So what was it that inspired Cage to follow the path of such a radical departure from traditional classical music in which all aspects of a performance from the precise notes to play, how to phrase them, at what dynamic levels, etc. were dictated by the composer? The answer lies with Cage’s dear friend and chess mate Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp invigorated the art world at the turn of the century with his “Ready Mades”, which were sculptures created using a found object mounted to a stand or pedestal – such as a “Bicycle Wheel”(1917), a man’s urinal entitled “Fountain” (1917),”Bottle Rack (1914), a suspended snow shovel (1915) entitled “In Advance of a Broken Arm” (1917) and nine others over a 30 year period.

Duchamp called traditional sculptures “retinal art” – art that only appealed to the visual. He further thought that all of the thousands of manufactured and everyday inventions found in most households were “ready-made” to become objects in sculpture, thus adding new expression and thought into the process of examining a Ready Made. Furthermore, his curiosity with the cerebral actions in art and sculpture also migrated into the creation of music.

In 1913, he was curious about making a new vocal music composition for he and his sisters to perform in their living room. And this became the first known conceptual composition. The score was a series of instructions about the process to be used to create the composition, along side precise instructions on the process to be used to create the musical score. He named this composition the Erratum Musicale. The actual complete name was The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even.  Erratum Musicale – which was derived from the complete formal title of his most famous painting also known as The Large Glass.

So my recording is a historical documentation of the bookends of Indeterminacy from its conception, The Erratum Musical, to one of Cage’s seminal compositions utilizing aleatoric compositional means, 27’10.554” for a Percussionist. The liner notes on the album offer detailed information about how each composition was created by the composers, and then realized by me. I sincerely hope you enjoy the music.

One final note, but I must include the details of an incident that occurred in the recording of this record. The record label was Finnadar, the contemporary classical division of Atlantic Records. My album was recorded in Studio A, the large room in Atlantic NYC Studio A.   Studio A was “the room” where Stereo and Multi Track tape machines were codified. Its also the studio where Aretha recorded “Respect”, and many other legends recorded there including Cream, Bee Gees, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Robert Plant, Average White Band, Bette Midler, and many, many more.

So I nervously showed up, set up my instruments, and we began the sound check. My producer was the legendary Atlantic producer Ilhan Mimaroglu, and the engineer was the Atlantic staff stalwart Bobby Warner. Shortly into the check, we all noticed a continuous low-frequency rumble. After a number of tests, Bobby identified that the hum was in the studio, and the microphones were picking it up and amplifying it. After several hours, Bobby traced it to the pump for the 8,000 gallon water tank that was on top of the building. After a lengthy meeting with the building engineer, it was determined that the pump needed to be replaced. The engineer assured us that the work would be completed before the next day recording session start time of 10am. They met that schedule. We did the sound check and there was no low frequency rumble, and we took that day plus an additional day to record the record. The kicker was that Studio A was used exclusively for rock music, in which every instrument was picked up by its own microphone, whereas my record was all acoustic in which all instrument were picked up by suspended, omnidirectional condenser microphones. So as the rumbling was coming from the building structure, that rumble was most likely present on Aretha’s “Respect” track, but is inaudible because of the saturation of the decibel levels created by the instruments and voices on that track.

This sample of my recording of Cage runs from 0:00 to 7:23. Duchamp runs from 7:24 to 16:13.