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Frozen Time
John CAGE (1912-92)

Organ²/ASLSP (1987) [44:24]
Dominik SUSTECK (b. 1977)
Carillon I (2015) [4:17]
Toshio HOSOKAWA (b. 1955)
Cloudscape (2000) [7:57]
Carillon II (2015) [5:26]
Sen IV (1990) [7:49]
Carillon III (2015) [6:18]
Dominik Susteck (organ)
rec. 2015, Kunst-Station Sankt Peter, Köln.
WERGO WER73682 [77:31]

ASLSP stands for “As SLow aS Possible”, though you wouldn’t know this from the score of Organ²/ASLSP as it’s not marked there. There are also no dynamics marked or registers specified, so each performance is always a bit of a surprise. Dominik Susteck goes in fully with the slow stop changes and half-stopping that create strange timbres, unusual tuning and glissandi at the ends of notes. These elements are also not part of the score, but if we’re going “As SLow aS Possible” then this is a logical extension of slow playing – slow action at the console. I love these effects but always wonder if Cage himself would have approved.

Organ²/ASLSP is composed in eight movements, which are usefully given separate tracks on this release. There is also an option to repeat movements through this is not taken up here. The effect of the registrations chosen is to make the work into something quite spooky and atmospheric, almost Gothic horror at times, but certainly pregnant with a feeling for imagery which takes us into realms far beyond pure abstraction.

There are some alternative versions of Organ²/ASLSP on record. Paul Serotsky amusingly wrestles with a recording in what turns out to be an old ‘April Fool’ joke review while at the same time making some interesting points, but more realistic is the Mode label with Gary Verkade (review) which brings in a performance at just under 33 minutes. This has a more esoteric feel than Susteck’s, with less texture in the sustained notes and chords. I have a feeling it might be closer to Cage’s aesthetic, but as a listening experience Susteck’s performance is to my mind more involving. Consonant sonorities pop out of this recording to create moments of quasi-romantic expression, and the ‘frozen time’ elements of static suspension have a real feel of anticipation – there is always something about to happen, and when it does the brain is tickled and stimulated, making it hungry for more.

Dominik Susteck’s set of three improvised Carillons explore sounds unusual for an organ disc. The first uses the Schlagwerk register to activate the instrument’s various bells and percussion effects to create a remarkable noise. The second, my favourite, is a mysteriously suggestive and chilling soundscape that uses gently teased chimes and whistles over a sotto voce, chorale-like organ undertone. The third is a more urgent alarm that builds both in its clutch of high metallic chimes and clusters of organ notes, all growing into a menacing sound-machine that bellows at and beats us before retreating.

These three pieces are interspersed with works by Toshio Hosokawa. Cloudscape has its connection with John Cage in reproducing the sound of the shō, a reedy Japanese mouth organ used by Cage in his more meditative number pieces. This effect is most pronounced in the opening of the piece, the more scattered effects taking over – percussion and low growly tones included – build and recede in a way that the composer ‘has compared to the continuously changing forms of clouds.’ Sen IV has its conception in the lines of Japanese brush painting, its initial stabbing blocks of sound surrounded by the silence of a blank page. The silences are gradually filled with contrasting registers of the organ, eventually taking on its own quality in a second section that opens with slowly evolving harmonies which become punctuated by calligraphic gestures in sound. Both of these pieces demand a certain amount of tuning-in to the Japanese aesthetic, but also forge bridges between exotic philosophical thinking, and what Ingo Dorfmüller calls “Western listening habits.”

With its unusual sounds and intriguing programme, this is an organ disc of rare attractiveness for those willing to go beyond our traditional bubble. All registrations are printed for the instrument, which was conceived by Peter Bares and inaugurated in 2004. This is itself a unique object, and one deserving of a visit on this well-recorded and nicely presented disc.

Dominy Clements



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