*2022 stock* 'Etudes Australes was composed specifically for Grete Sultan, so this album is among the definitive recordings. As an indeterminate piece for solo piano (okay, well, a "duet for two hands"), this sounds very similar to Music of Changes, Winter Music, etc. Here, though, Cage generates indeterminacy by turning once again to using star charts as tools of composition, as he did previously in the wonderful Atlas Eclipticalis.
In a way, I find the piano to be more suited to star charts than almost any other instrument. When you hear piano notes, they seem like points of sound surrounded by silence, just as stars are points of light surrounded by darkness. With the Etudes Australes, I have a very strong impression that I'm "listening to the sky".
And this makes Cage's ideas much more tangible, I think. We all appreciate the beauty of the night sky, and many of us can even appreciate the beauty of a simple star chart printed on paper. On the other hand, the vast majority of us find it almost impossible to comprehend how anybody could see the slightest bit of beauty in the music of John Cage. Yet, in these Etudes, he's only doing for our ears what the stars do for our eyes. Cage spent much of his career inviting us to simply, as he said, "let sounds be sounds", and I feel like this composition pointedly adds: "...just like you let stars be stars".
If you can understand why somebody might find the night sky aesthetically beautiful, you're well on the way to understanding why people like me find Cage's music aesthetically beautiful. Etudes Australes is one of Cage's finest compositions - grand, majestic... yet also low-key and austere. Much like the night sky, I suppose.' - Zoot Allures