I’ve been looking for newer recordings, on CD. But every other recording I find is too fast, too textural, too “expressive,” too classical – too Uptown. They’re ultrasimple pieces, all white keys, nothing but pentatonic scale in No. 2. As with much of my own music, I sense that classical musicians find the bare notes too uninteresting, and think they have to “interpret” them to breathe life into them. There seems to be no sense anymore that a pure, stately, slow melody (such as one finds in Renaissance polyphony or Japanese Gagaku) can be beautiful. Post-Ligeti, post-Carter, post-Debussy, everything has to be turned into texture, into an illusionistic surface that transcends the notes. No! No!, a thousand times no! Sometimes the notes, played slowly and with dignity and clarity, are all one needs, as in Socrate, as in Musica Callada, as in In a Landscape, as in Snowdrop, as in Symphony on a Hymn Tune, as in The Art of Fugue.
It strikes me, though this would be difficult to document, that the ’70s were a high point for performers understanding that principle, and we’re now in a deep trough, because lately I’ve had a difficult time getting performers to play my simple music slowly enough; they encounter so little technical challenge that they start to rush, trying to buoy what they fear is dull music through some hint of the virtuosity they’re so proud of. But such music turns trivial when played as quickly as it’s easy to play it, as does much of Cage’s music of the 1940s. Bernas and Wyatt and Eno, coming from the pop world, exhibit far and away a more instinctive understanding of the Zen simplicity Cage was aiming at than any of the more recent renditions. I fear I’ll never find another really beautiful recording of Experiences 1 & 2 again.
An odd thing about Experiences No. 2 is that Cage omitted the final two lines of Cummings’s Sonnet, which I think are the best lines:
turning from the tremendous lie of sleep
i watch the roses of the day grow deep.
But it’s still a gorgeous song, and most gorgeous of all when sung the clean, blank way Wyatt sings it.