John Cage was famously disinterested in the conventions of Western tonal harmony because harmonic progressions tend to be predictable and tend to keep the listener from really hearing the sounds, simply eliciting responses to familiar patterns. Later in his life, though, he developed a view of harmony that stood outside tonal conventions, in which the element of predictability and cause-and-effect was eliminated, but in which a complex, organic relationship between harmonic sonorities could exist. By the 1970s, Cage had turned his attention to harmony as a significant element in this music, and derived it from the chance processes that he had previously used on other musical parameters. In his Number Pieces, he produced work in which the element of harmony was central, though entirely on his own terms. Two2, the 36-movement piece for two pianos recorded here, is a superb example of the composer's ability to bring his unique vision to an aural reality that confirms its aesthetic integrity, and is at the same time very beautiful. These movements are spare, slow moving, mostly very quiet, and exquisitely serene. There is in fact virtually no predictability in the shifting sonorities, textures, and rhythmic motion, but there is a feeling of inevitability, and each note or chord sounds carefully and artfully placed. This work operates very much in the same aesthetic framework of Morton Feldman's later chamber music, with which it shares a sense of open-endedness, and whose movement through time is never predictable, but always fully satisfying. This is music whose quiet gentleness would make it ideal for meditation, for any listeners who aren't afraid of occasional dissonance. (Cage's conception of harmony has no room for the idea of dissonance, anyway, and even those intervals that we associate with conflict -- seconds and sevenths and tritones -- sound completely serene and at rest in this harmonic and temporal context.) Much of the credit does to the exquisite execution of Cage's score by Rob Haskins and Laurel Karlik Sheehan, who play with infinite gentleness and sensitivity to each other and to the spirit of the music. Mode's sound quality is clean and intimate, with just enough resonance -- ideal for this repertoire. This CD should have strong appeal to fans of Cage and to fans of meditative music that has nothing to do with the facile, easy listening sound of most new age music.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|Two2, for two pianos (indeterminate)|