Still push¡ng the boundaries
Reviewed by Peter McCallum
Gage Uncaged, The Song Company and Ensemble Offspring,
CarriageWorks, Saturday, September 15
Few composers have challenged the conceptual boundaries of art as far-reachingly
as John Cage.
ln the 1960s and 1970s it looked as though his work and that of others marked
the end of the idea of the artwork as it had existed since the Renaissance and,
despite the conservative turn since then, this may yet prove to be true as we
move into a totally different period of human connection facilitated by previously
unimaginable technological possibilities.
This thoughtful mini-festival by the ever-enterprising Song Company and
Ensemble Offspring used his enduring influence as a context to present new and
rare works and felt like a breath of spring air in a world grown tired of the
inward-looking narrowness of recent years.
The first concert struck a fortuitous connection with the Greenpeace forum taking
place in the cavernous foyer space of CarriageWorks (a converted railway
Cage's Litany for the Whale comprised a written text set against simple
permutational voice parts on a five-note scale. Matthew Shlomowitz's Slow
Flipping Harmony for four instruments was like four roughly painted lines on a
large canvas, dripping and merging and fading out as the brush ran out of paint.
Colin Bright's requiem-style cantata, The Last Whale, by contrast, was a big
expressionist screech at the hideous destruction of a noble species.
The second concert revolved around an extended and sensitive performance of
one of Cage's late "number" pieces, Four6, in which four players with diverse
sound sources - a radio, a bass clarinet, a spoken text and percussion - created
one of those pure Cage-like sound worlds in which differences and tension
David Young's work walks a delicate line between delicate sensitivity and
over-preciousness and To Keep Things Reasonable for me unfortunately strayed into
the latter category. Frederik Rzewski's To the Earth, with a simple prayer-like text
on the Earth's abundance, and telegraphic percussion, I found strangely
The last concert, in "church" mode, featured Stephen Adams's A Short Service,
which combined radio, pure vocal polyphony and spoken text in collage style.
The slight weakness was that it was over-stratified and simple. Michael Smetanin
effectively brought Cage-like chance and permutations to his own hard-hitting,
quasi-minimalist style in Due Pezzi Per Niente. New shoots in the musical