Thursday, April 17, 2014

Way Back in 1972 (I was 12 at the time) I was suddenly overtaken with a powerful urge to make some music. Unfortunately, although I could sing rather well, I couldn't play any instruments at all. This put a serious kink in my musical yearnings.

I came up with the idea that perhaps music didn't have to be played. It could be constructed out of many of the ordinary sounds of life. Using my handy portable cassette tape recorder I set about constructing music out of running tap water, clanking glasses, creaking doors and ringing bells. I also found an old busted up guitar with two base strings that I realized could be used for lots of noisy extemporizing. Needless to say, I never succeeded in actually recording anything, mostly because I could not afford decent equipment

Little did I know back then that the notion of making music which sounds like life (or like weird noises) was neither original nor new. Avant-garde composers had been at it since the beginning of the century.

Over time I became a fairly proficient if totally amateur guitarist. One day I discovered that the recording program on my computer could actually do a whole bunch of interesting things. I hesitatingly laid down a few bars and …presto! By cutting, pasting and clicking a whole long construction came into being. More constructions followed. At first the sound quality was not professional, but I have gotten better over time. Today I find my recordings to be quite listenable and evocative. I have even published two professionally released albums that are available for through portals like iTunes, Juno and Amazon.

That being said, one of the pioneers of the ambient/experimental genre within the classical tradition was John Cage. He created some amazing things over the course of his career...even a piece of un-music called "4 Minutes 33 Seconds" in which everyone goes to the concert, the orchestra get set on stage, the piano soloist takes his seat at the grand, the conductor picks up his baton and then....nothing...silence. I happen not to think of it as music, but more of a philosophical exercise. Cage also experimented with exactly the same notion that caught my attention as a youngster...could it be possible to generate music out of the sounds of ordinary life?

The following delightful video is of John Cage, graced with good humor and a fine touch of humility, performing a piece entitled "Water Walk" on TV in 1960. The anchor and the audience cant make up their minds whether to try and be serious about this avant garde creation, or to laugh as one might at a comedy skit. Cage himself seems to be telling everyone "However you take it is how it is meant to be taken!" The audience interpretation of the performance is part of the performance itself. Amazingly, the whole thing seems to have gone over rather well!

It is heartwarming to see one of the great grandparents of Ambient music perform with such aplomb.


And of course, don't forget to check out my music site