Song Books

28.6.2018, 20:30, Antonín Dvořák Theater

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Set of open works; version for 10 voices and electronics, 1970

Music: John Cage
Texts: Henry David Thoreau, Norman O. Brown, Erik Satie, Marcel Duchamp, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, Marshall McLuhan, among others

Directors: Jiří Nekvasil a David Bazika

S.E.M. Ensemble
Ostravská banda

Czech premiere, 90 min

In English language

Song Books (1970) is a voluminous collection of solo compositions following in the vein of two earlier vocal solos by Cage. The first book includes solos 3 to 58, the second book goes from 59 to 92 and the third one contains performance instructions. The solos fall into four categories: 1) for voice, 2) for voice and electronics, 3) theatrical action, 4) actions with electronics. Any subset of the individual solos may be chosen and their performance may overlap without restriction. Some are nothing more than short tunes or pieces of action, but e.g. Solo for Voice 58 (18 microtonal ragas) takes up whole evening and some solos permit the use of instruments The electronic aspect is not determined. Despite great freedom offered by the multifarious types of notation and instructions used, the solos are very tricky to perform, since they require a passionate, but also highly restrained, selfless approach. Song Books may be considered a work of musical surrealism, but one devoid of any psychoanalytical aspects.

The influence of American composer John Cage (1912–1992) has not been limited to music: his stimuli have found broad appeal across diverse areas of art (dance, theater, poetry, visual art or film). His work is notable for its radical split with European musical tradition and the conception of art prevalent in his era. Around 1950, after his initial experimental search for new sounds, he came to a distinctive conception of music, striving to bridge the abyss between art and life. He put emphasis on the role of attention in the perception of art, pointing out that silence, too, is always filled with sounds (which normally remain unnoticed). Another stimulus had been provided by D.T. Suzuki’s lectures on Zen Buddhism, mainly the teaching on plurality of centers (“every being is the center of the Universe”), which became the basis of Cage’s new conception of musical time and coordination (from that point in Cage’s work on, each musician is treated as an independent individuality).

Jaroslav Šťastný

This engagement is supported by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation through USArtists International in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.