Variations VII performed by John Cage as one of the 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City in 1966. The composition was the next to last of John Cage's series of indeterminate works that he had begun in 1958, which made increasing use of electronic equipment and systems. The DVD documents the only complete performance of Variations VII and also presents a stereo audio of the full 85 minutes of the performance. 9 Evenings was the series of innovative dance, music and theater performances that were the result of collaborations between artists and the engineers and scientists from Bell Telephone Laboratories.
2008-04-15 La Folia online By Grant Chu Covell Mode's 29th volume in its ongoing Cage traversal presents the Variations series' first three installments. Motion Ensemble emphasizes a technological progression with acoustic instruments in Variations I to live electronics in Variations III. David Tudor's spirit hovers over these performances. He is Variations I's dedicatee: for David Tudor, on his Birthday (Tardily), and several Motion Ensemble players cut their signal-processing teeth (sawteeth?) on Tudor's live electronic works. Variations I, taken here by clarinet, horn, trumpet, violin, double bass, prepared piano and percussion, sounds like any of the unstructured aleatoric pieces cluttering the 20th century. However, Motion Ensemble's musicians play reservedly, producing ample savory sounds. Variations II introduces electronics and a simultaneous performance of Lecture on Nothing. Helen Pridmore delivers the odd, self referential text as much about nothing as it is about something. Several times she burbles the words through water or projects them in a laughing voice. Double bass and violin squawks and scratches are amplified. A percussionist plays with gadgets ranging from toy pianos to amplified slinky. It's entrancing to follow the text's thread, and as in the other performances, Motion Ensemble proceeds with delicate restraint. Variations III includes pre-recorded and live sounds: twittering birds, a revving gas powered lawn mower, a bus pulling up to a curb, etc. The live electronics aren't heavy-handed. These aren't DJs using Cage's shadow as an excuse to bring down the house. Many quiet sounds are amplified, and countless percussion and widgets are treated to filtering, reverb and delay. Instruments and techniques may differ from Variations I, but the atmosphere is similar. Heard coming after Variations I and II, a listener might not notice that traditional instruments are absent. It'd be a treat to hear these folks live. True to form, Mode presents an excellent recording, capturing these caucuses' every nuance. --La Folia online