Members of Sonic Youth, Negativland and the Flying Lizards have all taken part in a new recording of composer John Cage’s music with pianist Tania Chen. Electronic Music for Piano is a work that Cage wrote in Stockholm in 1964 on hotel letterhead, asking for musicians to play parts of his Music for Piano 4-84 on electronic equipment. What is played is up to the artist.
Audio from the recording presents an ominous soundscape of staticky noise, sparse piano and lots of space in and around the instruments. It will come out on CD and digitally on March 9th.
Chen recorded the 70-minute piece in London and Berkeley, California with Thurston Moore, former Flying Lizards member David Toop and Negativland’s Jon “Wobbly” Leidecker. Their aim was to create a new version of the piece with help from composer Gino Robair.
Robair wrote in the notes for the piece that this rendition of the piece “has sudden (sometimes drastic) transitions as well as silences lasting up to three minutes. You’ll also hear artifacts of the performance – for example, the creak of the piano bench and the physical movement of the musicians – which addresses a statement in the score that reads ‘Consideration of imperfections in the silence in which the music is played.'”
Outside of this work, Moore has been keeping busy in recent years. In addition to putting out the solo album Rock n Roll Consciousness last year, he contributed a track, “Chelsea’s Kiss,” to Hugs for Chelsea, a compilation that raised money for recently released whistleblower Chelsea Manning. He also released several collaborative experimental albums over the past year.
In an interview with Rolling Stone last year, he explained his perception of the relationship between rock and experimental music and how it dovetailed into the punk music that inspired him. “I don’t think of rock & roll as experimental,” he said. “It’s always worked as an underpinning to the mainstream. I think the only times we had any kind of experimental rock & roll action in the mainstream was in the hippie era with Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix making noise. In the early Seventies, record companies were turning more corporate, so they commodified and homogenized rock, and punk rock started in reaction to that. With punk, it was really uncool to be part of the mainstream; there was no ambition toward being in the mainstream.”