John Cage - Lollipops [El/ Cherry Red - 2020]Lollipops, a three-disc CD set, is somewhat of a bits & bobs collection of works from celebrated & respected modern classic composer/ experimental artists John Cage. The set moves between his more instrumental formal work- though experimental compositions, onto his more quirky & experimental work, through to his works for tape, piano, and voice, and early/pioneering electronic sound. so, on the whole, the set does lack key focus, but you do get a good enough snapshot of his output between the 1930s and late 1950s
This recent CD boxset appears on El- which is one of the Cherry Red sub-labels that focus in on more modern classical fare, easy listening, and more quirky/ camp sonic fare from the past. The set is presented in a card slip sleeve- with each CD coming in its own card sleeve- there is also a twenty-five inlay booklet, here we get a bio on Cage, a selection of quotes from him, and of course discussion about the works/ tracks presented here.
The first two & a half discs here focus in a twenty-year retrospective concert that took place in May of 1958 at NYC townhall- this release has appeared a few times over the years since 1959, as both an LP set & CD set. In all this concert took in nineteen compositions nineteen on disc one, and single twenty six-minute piece of disc two. On the first disc these move between the angular-to-playful classical horn 'n' string swoon of 1934’s “Six Short Inventions For Seven Instruments”. Onto the modern metal percussion meets Paino dart & wane of 1939’s “First Construction In Metal”. Through to the shifting & prepared piano focused selection of tracks that is 1945-1948’s “Sonatas And Interludes”. Onto manic-to-playful musique concrete of 1952’s "Williams Mix".
Disc two finishes off the recordings from the NYC retrospective with the 1958 piece "Concert For Piano and Orchestra"- here we find twenty-six minutes of seared, angular blooming, and darting modern classical composition- which feels like it has more in common with Avant jazz than classical composition, though of course, it’s utilizing formally classical music instrumentation.
After this on the second disc, we move onto 1941’s "Double Music"- which saw Cage collaborate with Gamelan focused US composer Lou Harrison- this track runs for just shy of six minutes and is pretty much what you’d expect from such a collaboration- a darting & playful layered percussive work. The second disc is topped off with two tracks from 1959’s "Indeterminacy"- a four-part collaboration between Cage & David Tudor- each track lasts around twenty-three minutes, and each our blends of Cage wondering & zen-like spoken word matter, tape elements, and jarring piano tones- the piece is a both amusing & playful, though a little pretentious too- and depending on one's mood it will either reward or annoy.
Disc three opens with parts three & four of "Indeterminacy", and this is much as the same as the other two parts. Finishing off disc three we have two tracks – 1960’s "Cartridge Music", and 1958’s "Fontana Mix"- the first track runs for just over twenty minutes, this was Cage's first attempt at creating electronic music in a live setting- it finds him & David Tudor manipulating record player cartridges, and this really stands as an early example of US noise-making- with the pair creating a shifting tapestry of textural drags, rubs & feedback bays. The final track runs for eleven & a half minutes, and is an example of rapid & often jarring musique concrete.
On the whole, Lollipops is a worthy enough compilation of Cage’s work- and the three-disc set gives a good enough oversight on much of his output. Sure it’s a little haphazard & muddled in its presentation- but I’d say if you want a relatively priced collection of Cages work, this hits the spot well.Roger Batty