Various Artists

Three Dances/Four Organs

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Angel released this inspired pairing in 1973, though, unfortunately, it remains unavailable on disc as of 2002. The first side is devoted to John Cage's extraordinary Three Dances for two amplified, prepared pianos, certainly one of his most accessible works and arguably one of his most sensuously beautiful. By carefully placing all manner of "debris" inside the body of the pianos (including screws, bolts, pieces of rubber, felt, etc.), the instrument becomes less a piano and more a kind of off-kilter gamelan orchestra. Gamelan and other music of Southeast Asia is clearly an inspiration for these dances in both the sonorities expressed and the rhythms employed. Indeed, listeners who know only Cage's chance-based compositions may be amazed at the sheer rhythmic vitality and melodic cadences found here. The first and third dances are driving, propulsive scores, the second serenely meditative for the most part. A youthful Michael Tilson Thomas and Ralph Grierson perform the work with an evidently joyful passion. Steve Reich's Four Organs (also recorded around the same time for the more obscure Shandar label) has one simple but deep idea. Take a dense electric organ chord and then, with extreme patience and slowness, gradually lengthen each note that makes up the chord so that one journeys from the rigorous exactitude of the opening statement (with regular rhythmic accompaniment by maracas) to a languorous sonic cloud where each of the constituent elements has been freed to waft away on its own. Very different, in several senses, from the Cage piece but similar in the driving desire to wrest the unexpectedly beautiful from "ordinary" materials. Difficult to find, but very worth one's while to pick up if located.