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John Cage Sonatas and Interludes and The Perilous Night with commissioned works for prepared piano, and electroacoustic compositions by students of Liverpool Hope   Joanna MacGregor, prepared piano Sound Circus SC 003 (Available from Unknown Public)



Review in conjunction with concert review in Seen & Heard

Sound Circus, Joanne MacGregor's own independent record label, was launched in December 1998 at Perilous night, a memorable event at London's South Bank Centre. A packed audience of young people enjoyed their first experience of John Cage's most famous innovation, the prepared piano, and that evening's programme became the best of the first batch of Sound Circus releases.

John Cage (1912-92) straddled the century as an inspirational liberator from preconceptions about music and its performance. Meeting him in his old age, I was struck by his gentle friendliness and obvious interest in listening to new music of every kind. His impact upon world music has been arguably greater than that of any other American composer. His invention of the prepared piano captivated Joanne MacGregor, its elaborate transformations sounding to her like "a lush garden of wind chimes, babbling brooks, 88 gamelan players and African xylophones".

Perilous night is a double CD, alluringly packaged in a specially designed folded book format, instead of the usual jewel case. One CD is devoted to Sonatas and Interludes, 16 delectable pieces in Scarlatti's binary form with repeats, mainly tranquil and with strong ancient Indian references. The other has the six pieces of The Perilous Night, darker music written during a time of emotional turmoil. This takes much further the piano preparation, with objects like pieces of rubber, plastic and metallic bolts inserted amongst the strings to precise instructions. It is juxtaposed with specially commissioned pieces for prepared piano and tape by Django Bates You live and learn, Deidre Gribbin The Broken Piece of the Moon, Jonathan Harvey Homage to Cage and Andrew Toovey You may (not) want to (be) here/hear , interposed with brief electronic pieces by student composers.

The whole is a marvellous conception magnificently realised. A first edition to cherish, inspired programming with immaculate recording and presentation - recommended enthusiastically.


Peter Grahame Woolf

new sounds for open ears and minds

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SC 002 OUTSIDE IN PIANIST Diary: February-October 1998

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SC 003 PERILOUS NIGHT Cage and beyond

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Peter Grahame Woolf

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