John Cage – Four6 (1990-92) for four players
Melvyn Poore, concept
Janet Sinica, video
Jan Böyng, editing
Hendrik Manook, sound direction
Anything that one adds to Cage‘s work in the name of interpretation is normally doomed to failure. In his writings, he was so clear in his intention to let the sounds be themselves and not to let his use of chance become an excuse to do just anything. He was at pains to point out that everything in the performance of his music must be pre-determined and not left to the moment. In other words, you prepare your part; you prepare your sounds (yes, your sounds, not someone else‘s) and you practice the sounds; you prepare the environment by determining where your instrument/s will stand/lie, in which orientation, at which height, on which side of your body; you make sure you can read your part and your stopwatch without difficulty – it is not too close or far away – and there is sufficient light to read comfortably; the music stand is not going to collapse; you check that all the instruments actually function – although they all did two hours ago (did the buzzer run out of battery in the meantime, did you remember to charge the iPad?); you even check that all the instruments are indeed still there (did someone just ‚borrow‘ the pencil which was lying on the stand and forget to put it back?) and all the other Ten Thousand Things which you learn as a performer who goes on stage to make music in front of a paying audience and when you have achieved all of this over days or weeks of preparation, all you have to do now is go out and play the piece.
Or did I forget something?
When the Covid lockdown came, Ensemble Musikfabrik was faced with the task of finding new forms of making our repertoire available to our audience. I had wanted to perform Cage‘s Four6 again (we had played it in Tel Aviv the previous summer) and was thinking about how to bring it into a video format without breaking the delicacy of Cage‘s concept. I say delicate, since I think the personal discipline and responsibility which Cage‘s music demands of me, can easily get submerged in the subjectivity of interpretation, which could become even more problematic when dealing with a medium in which I am not trained.
What is then the role of the interpreter here? Is there indeed such a role? Or should we rather speak of a performer, who simply brings forth the sounds at the time they are required? This seems to me to be too narrow a definition: the ‚performance‘ is the culmination of a process which started weeks or even months before and is not without considerable interpretative qualities and energetic charge. However – and here is a difference to playing most chamber music – at the moment of producing a sound, I am not interacting with my colleagues – no reaction – even though the sounds themselves are inter-penetrating (Cage‘s term). Discipline and responsibility.
How to encapsulate this in a video? We often hear the criticism that a film does not really capture the piece it is attempting to portray, since the director sends the camera where s/he wants it to be, not where the viewer would like it to be. In Four6, there is ample movement coming from the performers themselves – each of the four performers chooses twelve sounds and all of them except four are repeated several times (two of them are not used at all). Camera movement or cuts would add an undesirable subjective layer to the one hundred and seventy four sound-events-plus-gestures inhabiting this thirty-minute long soundscape. Four6 is for Cage’s music an unusually dense score: the sounds are constantly forging new relationships with each other. Thus, I imagined a static camera would reveal a contrapuntal music-theatre performance.
With video, we can do things with the performers which are more difficult or impossible on stage: in this case, place them above each other, giving a compact view of them in an ostensibly intimate situation – under Covid conditions not allowed – at the same time appearing distanced from each other. The dynamic lighting sequence alters the visual relationships between the performers, treating the screen as a picture in its own right.
And here, I go back and read my first sentence.
Melvyn Poore, March 2021