Utterly spellbinding survey of John Cage’s late works, mostly focussing on orchestral pieces performed and recorded circa his 1990 visit to East Berlin, and including a stunning rendition of Some of The Harmony of Maine  performed by Edition RZ’s Jakob Ullmann, who coincidentally write the box’s lucubrate liner notes. If you’ve ever been intrigued by Cage but can’t see a way into his crenelated catalogue, we strongly recommend checking this set for some of the late, great thinker and composer’s most accessible and gratifying work.
The three discs of Klang Der Wandlungen feature five full pieces written between 1948 and 1992, just before the composer’s death at 80 years of age. By this point in the early ‘90s, Cage was already long established among 20th century avant garde heavyweights, having studied under Arnold Schoenberg - the inventor of serialism - and an extensive background in writing for modern dance with his longterm partner Merce Cunningham, as well as pioneering the prepared piano and penning the seminal 4’ 33”, perhaps one of the most important works of the 20th century.
Following an interest in eastern philosophy and anarchy from the late ‘40s, his work became defined by aleatoric music, or chance-based composition from then on, which came to define the sphere of Amercian avant-garde in opposition to the ‘new music’ coming from Darmstadt in the ‘50s, or European traditions and their focus on technicality or artisanship. These Cageian ideas had seeped into East Germany before reunification, and, in 1990, Cage was invited to East Berlin in the newly reunified German state at the behest of the IGNM (International Society for Contemporary Music).
The recordings in Klang Der Wanderlung were part of the programme or related to this visit, and, with historical context, came to show how his ideas had, over the preceding decades, become absorbed into European practice. We can hear striking similarities with the tension of Giacinto Scelsi in the remarkable opener Seventy-Four, and with Luigi Nono’s use of intangible quietness in 103, whilst the breathtaking Postcards From Heaven - here performed on harp by Gabriel Emde - is comparable with the feather-touch minimalism of Morton Feldman. Really, not what you may expect if you’ve only heard Cage’s famous, atonal early pieces such as Cartridge Music , a prototypical piece for adapted vinyl turntables, for example.
Another of Cage’s famous, early Imaginary Landscape compositions, makes up one of this set’s two biggest highlights. Gabriel Emde performs harp on a utterly gorgeous rendition of In A Landscape , a Satie-esque piece for dance presented here for the first time, whilst Jakob Ullmann’s organ performance of Some of The Harmony of Maine, renders the pioneer of Quiet Music at his loudest, performing Cage’s work in bold, striking gasps shattered by passages of near-silence.
Jakob Ullmann’s liner notes offer a lot more to sink your teeth into, alongside the music, which as always, is up to Edition RZ’s uncompromisingly high standards. Together with the delectable packaging, it makes up a perfect entry point to one of the most fascinating wormholes ever opened by art or music.