Energetic and sensitive performances by the Essential Music ensemble. Lost Works: The City Wears a Slouch Hat is a wonderfully imaginative work, presented as part of the Columbia Workshop (CBS Radio) program originating on station WBBM (New York City) on May 31, 1942, and was recently brought to light again in this revival recording. (Actually, Cage's original 250-page score had to be quickly revised in one week when the engineer who had previously told Cage that "anything is possible" decided Cage's completed score was, in fact, impossible...the 250-page score has never been seen again.) This is Cage's only work to underscore a linear dramatic text, and an important development in his musical thinking because the radio medium allowed him to treat recorded environment sounds, live sound effects, and exotic and normal percussion instruments as equally musical -- the nomenclature includes tin cans, muted gongs, woodblocks, alarm bells, oxen bells, temple gongs, water gong (a gong slowly dipped in water, a technique which slowly sweeps harmonics like a high-Q filter invented by Cage), tamtam, bass drum, Chinese tom-tom, bongos, cowbells, maracas, claves, marimbula, Chinese and Turkish cymbals, steel coil, washboard, ratchet, pod rattle, whistles, automobile horn, foghorn, metronome, steel pipes, music stands, thundersheet, string piano, telephone, buzzer, and various recordings: automobile, airplane, rain, wind, variable oscillator frequencies, baby cries, and the sound of the ocean. There are also bits of music that have become interwoven into daily life; Patchen's text is surreal but normal, slangy, and "average" American in style.
The main character is known simply as the Voice. He wanders through encounters and meets people who could be straight out of a film noir B-movie: a street mugger (the Voice's wallet strangely contains a picture of the mugger, or at least, the Voice convinces him of that and the mugger gets frightened), a suicidal woman who lies about her face being scarred by a broken mirror (until the Voice strikes a match in the dark) because she thinks no one can understand her problems, an attempted kidnapping (oddly enough, the Voice knows the three strangers' names), street beggars, arguing couples passing in the street ("How come every time we go to mother's you have to start in..." ), odd nightclub remarks ("Listen, Al, that nanny goat couldn't win a race if they put snowshoes on the other gees"), a man sitting in the rain listening to foghorns and wondering about creameries and rice planting, the Voice's own odd precognitive abilities (on the telephone: "...the pavement's pretty wet tonight, and their car is going to skid off into a tree...all of them, even the baby... the car'll catch fire...yes, just ten minutes from now...it doesn't matter how I know...I'm sorry. Goodnight."), a fellow who has invented a laughing machine called a mirthogram, and a combo Elizabethan and proto-rap poem set in a traffic jam. Having escaped from the madness of civilization, the piece ends with the Voice eulogizing about the ocean, sitting on a rock to which he swam. He meets a man who lives on the rock and together they howl above the sound of the sea. The Voice delivers a final wish: "I think we need more love in the world...If one man fails to believe, then there can be no faith in the world -- for all men are finally one man, you, me...I am coming into your house with my hand outstretched. I am your friend. Do not be afraid of me."
"Fads and Fallacies in the Academy" is an often hilarious, tongue-in-cheek composition in three movements for piano and percussion ensemble written in July, 1940, for a dance by Marian van Tuyl at Mills College (Oakland, CA). The first movement, "Axioms," is divided into three sections: "The pupil is eager to learn" begins with a lively Americana-type piano melody with the melody imitated by (pitchless) snare drum, followed by a B-section of unaccompanied hand claps, almost in a hambone rhythm. "The pupil is constitutionally lazy" makes the previous melody into a slow bass pattern (a kind of languid habeñera) with lovely, lazy-afternoon chords on the top. "We deal with the total child" (you can imagine this line quoted from a college brochure with an in-loco-parentis attitude) has quasi-random whistling over a silly waltz which turns into frivolous dance class music, interspersed with occasional heroic licks from Beethoven and Mozart, and out-of-rhythm drumming. The second movement, "A Short Historical Sketch" has two sections: "Reactionaires" is a difficult, florid piano piece mimicking 19th century salon music. "Revolutionaires: Pitched Battle" begins with a metronome, then accumulates ratchets, machine-rhythm on waste basket, washtub, alarm bell, and snare drum. The third and final movement is entitled "Vistas of the Future" and has two sections; "Pessimist" starts with a voice counting to nine four times plus three counts, then a piano accompanied by a snare drum plays a very tubby version of "Ach, Du Lieber Augustin," very probably a not-too-flattering comment on German academics. "Optimist" has a rather happy tone cluster opening, returns to the hambone claps, and intersperses some "modernistic" 1920s rhythmic dissonances, until fragments of the initial theme return, almost. Probably composed during the same time as the collaborative work "Party Pieces" (1949-1950, written by Cage, Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison and Virgil Thomson), "A Chant with Claps" is a brief socio-philosophical reflection that has an ancient quality in its simplicity (reminiscent of much of Harry Partch's textural work). A voice declares, with scored rhythm and scored handclaps, the following text: "We have seen that Greek music became a highly complex artistic and scientific system. Its acclaim coincided with that of the civilization to which it belonged. Long before Greece became a Roman colony, Romans had adopted Greek culture. That adoption became in every case, also an adaptation. Music was no exception; music was no exception. When the social function of music changes, a change may also be expected in the music -- even in the music of Greek civilization."