Music For Merce Cover

In what I have no doubts is the release of the year, New World Records is putting out a 10-Cd set of music composed for and performed with the Merce Cunningham dance company. John Cage is most famously associated with with Company, but Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, David Tudor, Gordon Mumma, Toshi Ichiyangi, David Behrman, Takehisa Kosugi and many more innovative and fantastic musicians and composers have also composed and performed music for the company.  Merce always kept up with interesting music and his innovative decoupling of the dance and the music allowed for composers to really create without artificial restrictions. This box set is coming out December 20th and will obviously take months if not years to digest. I plan to embark on a series of posts next year where I go through the treasure trove contained in this epic set. In this post though I’ll highlight what is of particular interest to me in this set.

What has me immediately excited about this set is the amount of unreleased david Tudor compositions. Readers of this site know how much I love Tudor’s Live Electronics and how instrumental it has been on my own music.  But the tragedy of it all is that most of Tudor’s compositional work and live performance remains unreleased.  This is why getting even the scrap of Bandoneon ! that was released on the 9 Evenings dvd this year was such an event – the first unreleased Tudor piece in years.  This set though outdoes itself in this as so much of Tudor’s work was down for the Cunnningham dance Company.

Disc 4
1. David Tudor Toneburst (1975) 17: 45
Dance: Sounddance (1975)
David Tudor, live electronics

Disc 5
1. David Tudor Weatherings (1978) [excerpt] 14:54
Dance: Exchange (1978)
David Tudor, live electronics

3. David Tudor Phonemes (1981) [excerpt] 14:00
Dance: Channels/Inserts (1981)
David Tudor, live electronics

4. David Tudor Sextet for Seven (1982) 18:15
Dance: Quartet (1982)
David Tudor, live electronics

Disc 6
4. David Tudor Webwork (1987) [excerpt] 10:46
Dance: Shards (1987)
David Tudor, live electronics

Disc 7
3. David Tudor Virtual Focus (1990)[excerpt] 15:15
Dance: Polarity (1990)
David Tudor, live electronics

5. David Tudor Neural Network Plus (1992) [excerpt] 13:28
Dance: Enter (1992)
David Tudor, Takehisa Kosugi, live electronics

Disc 10
Events (1993-2009)

1. Event“”February 16, 1993, Red Wing, Minnesota 5:58
David Tudor, live electronics; Takehisa Kosugi, electric violin

The first thing of note in this list is that Webwork, Sextet for Seven and Weatherings have not been released in any form and are thus this set is first recordings of these pieces. Most of these appear in extracts, which frankly isn’t too shocking considering that many of these pieces could be up to an hour in length and this is a 10 cd set already. Of course I’d rather have the full pieces, but these are all really generous selections so this will give a good feel for these pieces. Of the other pieces Virtual Focus has appeared as a 3 minute excerpt on a Musicworks cd(9) (along with a well worth hearing 18 minute piece by Matt Rogalsky utilizing the Virtual Focus setup) so this 15′ excerpt is pretty much a new release. Neural Network Plus, is also most likely completely new as none of the five available versions of Neural Synthesis(6, 7) (which I assume this is derived from) are performed with Kosugi.  The Events were basically improvisations between the current Cunningham “pit” and was something that they did for years as the pit musicians changed. This would make this a pretty rare example of Tudor improvising though of course one never knows what live electronics setup he’d use and what he’d have considered that setup to be.
Toneburst map 4
David Tudor & Sophia Ogielska, Toneburst Map 4
The other Tudor pieces, Toneburst and Phonemes have been released previously(5, 8) but considering that these were regularly performed to accompany dance, some of them for years these could be new recordings. It is hard to tell, the liner notes, conveniently available on the New World site here, do not specify. The excerpt of Toneburst is within a few seconds of the version released by the EMF(5) so that could be the same recording (though they don’t credit this on in the liner notes, which you’d think they’d have to do).  When I’m able to go through the set checking on whether these are new performances of these pieces is something that I’ll definitely explore when I get the set.
Burdocks extract
Christian Wolff Burdocks (excerpt)
As Tudor was a primary performer with the Merce Cunningham Dance company until 1992 he performs on quite a few of the other pieces on this set. A number of these are also of quite a bit of interest to the David Tudor fan. Of course there are plenty of instance of Tudor’s fantastic pianism on pieces from Cage, Wolff, Feldman and others. Beyond the interest that these pieces themselves have, some of these are previously unreleased versions of these pieces. Highlights of these include Wolff’s fantastic For 1, 2, or 3 People is represented by Tudor’s gripping realization on barrel organ and live electronics that previously appeared on the Second Wind for Organ LP which has never been on cd. Another would be  John Cages Variations V in which dancers trigger various pieces pieces of and Live Electronics setup which previously could be heard on a VHS tape of the dance that used to be sold from the Cunningham Company but has since gone out of print. Cages Music for Piano 1-20 is a wonderful piece which I’ve loved the versions I’ve heard Tudor perform(10) and I’m not sure that this is a new recording on not. Wolff’s For Piano I and Burdocks (which also features Cage and Mumma) are wonderful pieces that I look forward to hearing these realizations. There really is so much on here from Tudor that its really an embarrassment of riches for the Tudor aficionado.

Gordon Mumma's Mesa Setup

Gordon Mumma Mesa diagram
Gordon Mumma’s pieces are also of interest to the Live Electronics enthusiast and while Mesa has been released, 52/3 hasn’t and Telepos has only been release as part of the Music with Roots in the Aether video series that Robert Ashley released. 52/3 is performed by Cage, Tudor and Mumma and Telepos is another piece triggered by the dancers and are certainly something that I can’t wait to check out. David Behrman was a member of the Sonics Arts Union (along with Mumma, Lucier and Ashley) who were also early pioneers of live electronics and is represented here by …for nearly an hour and Long Throw which I’m unfamiliar with and look forward to checking out. Takehisa Kosugi, who was associated with Fluxus, often worked with Tudor and developed his own primitive electronics that he’d often play along with his violin. He long composed and played in the pit for the Company and his pieces are often of interest. He has relatively few releases and I at least haven’t heard S.E. Wave/E.W. Song or Spacings the two pieces from him on this set. Kosugi’s fellow Fluxus member Toshi Ichiyangi’s Activities for Orchestra is another one I look forward to hearing. I wish his Sapporo, realized by Tudor and Cage on live electronics, was included in this set, that one remains only available on a VHS of the accompanying dance. The pieces from Pauline Oliveros, Annea Lockwood and Maryanne Amacher are again new to me and ones that I look forward to hearing.

There really is too much here that I could just go on and on and that’s without even hearing them! Reading the extensive liner notes and listening to the excerpts on the website has me salivating for this set.  I’ll definitely be spending a ton of time with this over the holidays and throughout 2011 so look for more posts to come.


3) John Cage (Wikipedia)
5) David Tudor Live Electronic Music. (Electronic Music Foundation)
6) David Tudor David Tudor plays Cage and David Tudor [Neural Synthesis No. 2] (Atonal)
7) David Tudor Neural Synthesis Nos. 6-9. (Lovely Music)
8) David Tudor Three Works for Live Electronics. (Lovely Music)
9)  David Tudor Virtual Focus (Musicworks 73)
David Tudor Music for Piano (Edition RZ)
11) Composers Inside Electronics From the Kitchen Archives (Orange Mountain Music)
12) Christian Wolff (Wikipedia)
13) Morton Feldman (Wikipedia)
14) Earle Brown (Wikipedia)
15)  David Behrman (Wikipedia)
16)  Gordon Mumma (Wikipedia)
17) Pauline Oliveros (Wikipedia)
18) Maryanne Amacher (Wikipedia)
19) Annea Lockwood (Wikipedia)
20) Fluxus (Wikipedia)
21) Takehisa Kosgui (Wikipedia)
22) Toshi Ichiyanagi (Wikipedia)
23) Stuart  Dempster (Wikipedia)