John Cage ‘Five’

In our upcoming performance OUT-TAKE Ensemble is performing ‘Five’ by John Cage. ‘Five’ is taken from the fifth set of Cage’s series of so-called ‘Number Pieces’, and is the first of five pieces within this set… (confused? Wikipedia can explain:

I’m certainly not alone when I say that Cage’s music is immensely influential. His ideas remain fresh and innovative, and are frequently absorbed by composers all over the world. His teachings show young composers that you are free to go and push the boundaries on the preconceptions of what music sounds like. To many listeners of Cage, the end result might sound a bit unsuccessful, annoying even. But that is okay, because for Cage the process and sculpting of sound is more important. We aren’t expecting any of you to be humming to the tune of ‘Five’ when you leave our concert, but we do hope that for a moment, we can all take pleasure in a sort of controlled randomness that defines Cage’s sound.

‘Five’ is written for five unspecified instruments and lasts five minutes. Each player has one page of music, containing several short modules of musical notation comprised of between one and three notes, which must be performed within a specified range of time. We are all given different pitches to play, and we all follow stopwatches as this piece is performed in time as seconds rather than beats per minute. Cage gives us the freedom to choose when we start our notes and when we finish them (within the predefined range of timings that he specifies); the idea is that we sustain that single note for this duration. However, we must decide before we begin the note the time at which we both start and finish the note. So for example, I might think in my head ‘I’m going to begin this B at 1’49” and finish at 2’13”. Now irrespective of what happens whilst I perform this note, I must remain genuine to my original time frame. The reason for this is because Cage was very interested in removing the EGO from musicians that perform his music. This rule stops musicians taking advantage of a moment to show off or take the limelight. The music remains pure, unaffected by our human tendencies. When we perform ‘Five’ on the 20th November at Talking Heads, we hope that you enjoy five minutes of tranquil unscripted beauty.

If you fancy hearing a stunning rendition of ‘Five’ please check out this version performed by the voices of Andrea Fullington, Allison Zelles, Alan Bennett, Paul Elliott and Shabda Owens:

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