A beautifully produced 4-CD box set of John Cage's 'Number Pieces', played by Apartment House. With 44-page booklet and CDs in individual card wallets with original artwork by Arvinda Gray. These extraordinarily beautiful works were all composed in the last 5 years of the composer's life, as Cage approached his 80th birthday. These recordings by Apartment House are the first recordings for 15 years of almost all of the pieces. An essential release of wonderful but somewhat neglected music.
In the last five years of his life John Cage composed more than forty number pieces. This box set contains realisations by Apartment House of thirteen of them - all the works for mid-size ensembles (from Five to Fourteen), with Four5 added as a coda on the final disc. The titles of the pieces simply indicate the number of players, so both Seven and Seven2 are septets, with the superscript number indicating that Seven2 was the second piece in the series for seven performers. None of the number pieces has a time signature, bar lines or a conductor. The musicians decide individually when to play using a stopwatch and a system of ‘time-brackets’ which Cage had developed, though the way the sound brackets operate changes over time, generally becoming looser and more flexible in the later works. In some of the earlier pieces Cage occasionally uses fixed time brackets, indicating precisely when a musician should start and finish playing a particular note. But most of the time – and in all of the later pieces – the musicians choose when to start and stop within flexible time brackets, with the numbers on the left indicating a time within which the note must start, and the numbers on the right indicating the period within which the sound should stop.
Cage entrusts to the musicians the ability to make choices about when to play, and, in almost all the pieces, Cage also allows the musicians to choose how loud or soft to play each note, though usually with the stipulation that if they play loud, the sound should be short, whereas softer sounds can be long or short. This openness and flexibility about dynamics and when to play means that every performance of a number piece is unique.