John Cage - Volume 30: Variations I, II and III

John Cage


mode 129


Mode Records - A Record Label Devoted to New Music The Complete John Cage Edition, Volume 30: Variations I, II and III

VARIATIONS I (1958)   (20:03)
     for David Tudor, on his birthday (Tardily)
     Curtis Dietz, trumpet
     Nadia Francavilla, violin
     D'Arcy Philip Gray, percussion
     Richard Hornsby, clarinet
     Andrew R. Miller, double bass
     Gina Patterson, horn
     Helen Pridmore, prepared piano

Download the MP3 sample (2MB)

VARIATIONS II (1961)   (29:48)
     for any number of players and any sound producing means
     with LECTURE ON NOTHING (1959) for voice
     played simultaneously
     Nadia Francavilla, prepared & amplified violin
     D'Arcy Philip Gray, percussion
     Andrew R. Miller, prepared & amplified double bass
     Helen Pridmore, voice

Download the MP3 sample (1.9MB)

VARIATIONS III (1962-63)   (20:20)
     for one or any number of people performing any actions
     John D. S. Adams, D'Arcy Philip Gray, Andrew R. Miller, electronics

Download the MP3 sample (1.9MB)

Motion Ensemble

John Cage's Variations are from his most experimental period. They are graphically notated pieces which allow the performers to create their own scores within specific guidelines.

Variations I, II and III are scored for any number of players and any sound producing means. The goal of this project is to produce a document in sound of Cage's musical philosophy, which allows for aesthetics that are rather independent of those in traditional western music.

These works are conceptually similar, all based on a series of abstract drawings created by the performers. Made according to the composer's instructions regarding specific chance operations. From the drawings, the performer takes careful measurements and uses this information as the beginning of a performance score.

Each piece each is presented here in a very different manner. The realization of Variations I uses traditional instruments in combination with typical "Cagean" toys and gadgets (e.g. whistles, squeaky toys, etc.) that were common to many Cage-supervised orchestra pieces.

Variations II introduces the idea of simultaneous performance with the addition of Lecture on Nothing (as an "instrument" for the Variations II score) as well as featuring extensions of the traditional violin and double bass sounds.

Finally, Variations III uses only electronic instruments to bring the spectrum of sounds as far from the traditional instruments as possible.

D'Arcy Philip Gray was a musician for The Merce Cunningham Dance Company, adding an authoritative stamp to these recordings. He states: "Cage's Variations pieces have been part of my life since 1995 when I first performed Variations II as part of a Merce Cunningham "Event" in the months after the Paris performance, I began to explore the series further, talking with David Tudor about his experience with the pieces...the pieces to me have been a powerful educational experience, giving me the opportunity to examine Cage's philosophy in depth in the context of live performance." John D.S. Adams worked with David Tudor and continues to experiment with Tudor's techniques of live electronics.

MOTION ENSEMBLE is a group based in New Brunswick, Canada. Their repertoire is an eclectic mix of contemporary classical and experimental music, often utilizing electronics, improvisation and visual media.


John Cage
Variations I (1958); Variations II (1961) with Lecture on Nothing (1959); Variations III (1962-63)
Motion Ensemble.

Mode 129

Mode's 29th volume in its ongoing Cage traversal presents the Variations series' first three installments. Motion Ensemble emphasizes a technological progression with acoustic instruments in Variations I to live electronics in Variations III. David Tudor's spirit hovers over these performances. He is Variations I's dedicatee: for David Tudor, on his Birthday (Tardily), and several Motion Ensemble players cut their signal-processing teeth (sawteeth?) on Tudor's live electronic works. Variations I, taken here by clarinet, horn, trumpet, violin, double bass, prepared piano and percussion, sounds like any of the unstructured aleatoric pieces cluttering the 20th century. However, Motion Ensemble's musicians play reservedly, producing ample savory sounds.

Variations II introduces electronics and a simultaneous performance of Lecture on Nothing. Helen Pridmore delivers the odd, self referential text as much about nothing as it is about something. Several times she burbles the words through water or projects them in a laughing voice. Double bass and violin squawks and scratches are amplified. A percussionist plays with gadgets ranging from toy pianos to amplified slinky. It's entrancing to follow the text's thread, and as in the other performances, Motion Ensemble proceeds with delicate restraint.

Variations III includes pre-recorded and live sounds: twittering birds, a revving gas powered lawn mower, a bus pulling up to a curb, etc. The live electronics aren't heavy-handed. These aren't DJs using Cage's shadow as an excuse to bring down the house. Many quiet sounds are amplified, and countless percussion and widgets are treated to filtering, reverb and delay. Instruments and techniques may differ from Variations I, but the atmosphere is similar. Heard coming after Variations I and II, a listener might not notice that traditional instruments are absent. It'd be a treat to hear these folks live. True to form, Mode presents an excellent recording, capturing these caucuses' every nuance.
--- Grant Chu Covell, La Folia online review

Related Resources:

John Cage on Mode:
John Cage Profile/Discography

Motion Ensemble profile

email Mode

© Mode Records