John Cage

John Cage: Variations IV [Parts 1-6]

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Begin a discussion of John Cage, and the subject will inevitably come up of the man's high profile, contrasted with how few people actually listened to his music. It is hard to argue the notion, as some of the provocative actions of the man led to the type of "household word" status that leaves any kind of music out of the running in terms of getting attention. There were also actual developments in the history of Cage's music being released on record that contributed to his problems building an audience, particularly this album and its companion, Variations, Vol. 2. Quite simply, these albums originate from shabby live recordings of multimedia events that might have been fun to attend, with an emphasize on the "might." Only someone who was actually in attendance could judge that, since there is no form of documentation that can come close to evoking what such an experience is actually like. Everest was a low-budget line, and well-distributed at that. In the mid-'60s, at a time when the mass listening audience reached some kind of a peak in terms of interest regarding the work of avant-garde performers such as Cage, along came this easy-to-find album that cost just a bit more than a couple of meals at a hot dog stand. The name John Cage is splashed lavishly across the front, but be assured that the sounds that are on the album bear the same relation to the high-water marks of the man's career as the recordings of the Beatles singing "My Bonnie" do to Rubber Soul. Thousands of consumers bought this album and decided to never buy another John Cage album again. If played on the radio, this album is almost always accompanied by something else on another turntable, an artistic move that puts the DJ in Cage's philosophical universe, but is also simply a necessity. As a record, Variations IV comes nowhere near being able to carry the show as a listening experience.

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