This wonderful two-CD set, Volume 20 of The Complete John Cage Edition, contains three rare analog recordings (with minor technological flaws included) of live performances by Cage, verbal pieces that share similar compositional and indeterminant performance procedures as his instrumental works. Cage gives a brief spoken introduction to each of the pieces. The "Series re Morris Graves" (1973) was composed using the I-Ching to pick words and syllables from the Gospel of Sri Ramakhrisna which were then arranged according to the metrical scheme of the fourth movement of Cage's "Quartet for Percussion" (1935). The "Series ..." is filled with inspiring and anecdotal stories of seemingly eccentric behavior, of religious and artistic insights, of artists being mistreated by society (an abusive army prison, a rich man saying "all artists are loafers" until Graves retorts that everying the man owned had once been made or touched by artists), and much more in and surrounding the life of this famous contemporary painter. There are humorous and profound commentaries on the human condition. "What You Say" (1979) concerns painter Jasper Johns's comments in an interview and meditates on the question of the whole and its parts. The score is in the form of an extended mesostic with one sentence (strings) running on a center vertical and the rest of the text, arranged by chance operations, on the normal horizontal (the wing words) incorporating one letter of the vertical per line. "Art Is Either a Complaint or do Something Else" (1988) is based on statements made by Jasper Johns and arranged into mesostics by Cage. Cage's intelligent, warm and gentle voice is naturally modulated about a central resonance and makes for a refreshing, transforming, poetic experience.
AllMusic Review by "Blue" Gene Tyranny