The performers credited on Philip Corner's Gong (Cymbal)/Ear in the Desert are "Philip Corner with Korean shaman cymbals in the sand [and] Steve Peters listener with microphone." That information succinctly sums up the performance recorded here. In April 1991, Corner and Peters went to Tent Rocks, a geological formation in the desert of New Mexico. Corner laid the cymbals in the sand, stepped back, and then crawled toward them. He used them mostly to make very small sounds, scraping them in the sand or across rocks, gently touching them together, or sometimes not using them at all. Peters followed him with a recorder. The ambient sounds -- wind, insects, Corner's breath and movement along the ground -- are clearly as important a part of the piece as the cymbals. Peters writes, "It feels to me less like a document of a 'performance,' and more like a very specific moment of pure being in time and place that has been exquisitely, miraculously preserved." Gong (Cymbal)/Ear in the Desert radically embodies the concept that the listener is a crucial, indispensable part of a musical performance because the piece owes its character and content as much to Peters' listening and the way it guided his decisions about following Corner and where to point the microphone, as it does to Corner's use of the cymbals. It's a dramatic reminder that any musical experience, even one as conventional as listening to an orchestra in a concert hall, has variables that depend on the listeners' active participation. For listeners with a Cageian aesthetic, the 66-minute piece, with its unhurried sounds of nature and delicate, ringing cymbals, can be beautiful, even transcendent.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins