Zeitkratzer [Old School] – JOHN CAGE


This program, recorded at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 2006, comprises three pieces – two lasting half an hour, the third five minutes – written by John Cage in the final years of his life. Zeitkratzer, on that occasion, were Frank Gratkowski, Hayden Chisholm, Franz Hautzinger, Reinhold Friedl, Maurice de Martin, Burkhard Schlothauer, Anton Lukoszeviese and Ulrich Philipp, with Ralf Meinz taking care of technical aspects. The titles of the number pieces indicate the number of players, a stopwatch regulates the music (which is performed without a conductor), and so-called “time brackets” determine the temporal frame in which a player starts or ends a given sound, the overlapping parts giving birth to a different soundscape with each execution. There’s serious discipline at work here, clearly felt throughout the recording, and the level of fulfilment deriving from the exercise of this restraint is quite high.
1992’s Four6 – also recently given a brilliant realisation on Another Timbre’s Decentred – is executed with dutiful precision, permeated by a sort of inimical imperturbability. The droning character is predominant but far from soporific, with recurrent growls and ear-stabbing acute screeches meshing in uneven intensity, a sense of constant clattering underlining numerous sections, and grittiness delivered in the right doses. Five (1988), an emaciated permutation of stinging sustained tones interspersed with pauses, acts as an interlude before the concluding Hymnkus, which was composed in 1986 (and whose name is a combination of the words “Hymns” and “Haikus”). This is a difficult piece to access, due to a composite architecture which, in addition to its seriously dissonant, clustery temperament, introduces an element of percussive investigation that impedes easy assimilation. But focus the attention on the “space between the events” and the calm sureness with which the musicians generate their notes, noises and textures throughout, and something transcending musical signal and hinting instead at the “perfect imperfection” of the universe’s innumerable phenomena almost becomes a material presence.

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