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John CAGE (1912-1992)
Two3 for shō and five water-filled conch shells: nos. 4 and 7 [12.50]; no. 2 [12.47]; nos. 1 and 6 [11.47]; no. 8 [10.23]; no. 3 [14.40]; nos. 3 and 9 [14.14]; no. 9 [13.41]; nos. 5 and 10 [10.44]
Stefan Hussong (accordion, conch shells); Wu Wei (sheng, conch shells)
rec. 2013, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksall, Koln
WERGO WER67582 [2 CDs: 102:00]

Two3 is the third ďnumberĒ piece Cage wrote for two instruments. In the number pieces, the first number, spelled out, is the number of instruments or performers; the second, in digits, is the position of the piece in chronological order.

Each of the number pieces, which Cage composed in the last years of his life, has its own character, due to the varied selections of instruments, be they solo instruments, such as piano, or ensembles. They range from one to 108 instruments. You can read a good explanation of his technique in composing the number pieces here and Wikipedia has a list of the works here. Parts of the scores Cage wrote for these works include flexible time brackets, allowing the musicians a great deal of latitude in their performance. Hence, no two recordings sound the same.

In 1991, he wrote Two3, after meeting the shō player Mayumi Miyata. The shō is a 17-pipe mouth organ, used in traditional Japanese music. This recording also features accordion for some sections, together with sheng and conch shells; not your standard group of instruments (review ~ review).

Much of John Cageís music sounds random, which is no surprise, since his compositional technique, from the mid-1950s on, was based on aleatory processes. Yet Two3 doesnít sound entirely random; its waves of sound and decaying chords come across as more like certain types of ambient music. Thereís a lot of silence, with chords that come and go, but little actual melody. Written in ten sections, itís not exactly clear from the liner-notes why the sections are ordered as they are, and why, on four of the tracks, the musicians play two sections simultaneously.

That doesnít matter; what comes through here is an attractive sound; not one that fades into the background but one whose chords stand out against the silence. Cage constantly worked with silence, and the music of Two3 can be seen as interruptions in silence, rather than any sort of music with a narrative.

This is a fascinating recording, one that has grown on me as Iíve listened to it. Iíve always been on the fence about John Cageís music, and some of it irks me, whereas some enthralls me. This recording is definitely in the latter camp.

Kirk McElhearn

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