Earlier this week, I read that Merce Cunningham had passed away. Whilst regularly lauded as one of the finest choreographers and dancers not only in America, but also worldwide, Merce’s contribution to music is no less profound. His avant garde approach to movement was matched directly with his work within sound. His life partner, John Cage, was the inaugural musical advisor for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and, between them, the duo forged an unparalleled relationship between music and dance, so much so that the repertory now reads as something of a ‘who’s who’ in 20th century avant garde music. Familiar names such as Sonic Youth, Radiohead, Brian Eno, Sigur Ros, Gavin Bryars, Pierre Henry, Erik Satie rub shoulders with composers and musicians who bent form, twisted genres and stretched definitions – and all of them sound-tracked work from a visionary artist, the like of which we may never see again.
It seemed fitting to construct a tiny tribute to Merce, utilising music and sound both lifted from artists within the repertoire (Pauline Oliveros, Sigur Ros, Earle Brown, Brian Eno, Sonic Youth, Yasunao Tone and, of course, John Cage), and those who were inspired by it. The latter is represented directly and indirectly. La Monte Young, who scored Merce’s 1964 piece ‘Winterbranch’, cited Ustad Abdul Karim Khan‘s ‘Jamuna Ke Tira Kanha’ as “one of the great masterpieces of music”. In addition to Charlotte Moorman’s realisation of a Cage piece, artist Mikrosopht also blends one of Cage’s many spoken words recordings into his own composition, where the composer’s influence on Nobukazu Takemura is more oblique – citing his “impressionist and objective conception” as key bearings on the creative process. I’ve also included My Brightest Diamond‘s variation of Radiohead‘s ‘Lucky’ from Stereogum’s OKX project – a puzzling hit and miss affair, particularly given the subject matter.
I was extraordinarily fortunate to have met Merce Cunningham a few years back – a close friend was working with him and invited me to lunch at his apartment when I was visiting NYC. I remember him being extremely warm, good humoured and incredibly genuine – it was one of those rare and beautifully uncommon episodes that will remain with me for life.
- 1. Pauline Oliveros – Sound Patterns [4:04]
- 2. Sigur Rós – ( ) #6 [8:48]
- 3. Ustad Abdul Karim Khan – Bhairavi Thumri (Adha Tal) – Jamuna Ke Tira Kanha [4:09]
- 4. Earle Brown – Hodograph 1 For Chamber Ensemble [3:34]
- 5. Brian Eno & David Byrne – Regiment [4:11]
- 6. Mikrosopht – Very Deep Pleasure (feat. John Cage) [3:23]
- 7. Charlotte Moorman – “26’1.1499″” For a String Player (abbreviated version)” [2:47]
- 8. Sonic Youth – SYR6 (Excerpt) [3:09]
- 9. Nobukazu Takemura – Cogwheel [9:46]
- 10. Yasunao Tone – Wounded Man’yo, No. 36-7 [10:23]
- 11. My Brightest Diamond – Lucky [4:14]
- 12. John Cage – John Cage Meets Sun Ra, Part One (Edit) [10:42]
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