Musique Concrete 4’33” Compilation
Institute For Alien Research, 2011
Reviewed by Kent Manthie
Better late than never, right? This compilation of 15 songs by 15 different artists is called the “4’33” Compilation” because each track is exactly four minutes and 33 seconds. Now, what do you think of when you see the name “4’33””? That’s right – the legendary, avant-garde, ingenious piece by the late, influential John Cage. But the difference between Cage’s classic study in silence is not represented on Musique Concrete… In other words, even though all the songs are 4:33, none of them are “covers” of the four and a half minutes of complete silence that Cage came up with. Instead, what you get are a variety of experimental works that all use the 4:33 timeline – for what reason, except as a shoutout to Cage?
Of all the different artists that contributed to Musique Concrete, a few of honorable mentions include Shaun Robert’s “Paradigm”. Robert is one of the forces behind IFAR and they’re mission toward forward-looking, experimentation that results in new forms of sound – not regular “song” structures that we’re all aware of, but myriad sources of sounds – dissonant, irregular, eerie, droning, noisy, deconstructed samples of a new type of music, constantly morphing, fluid material that contains “found” sounds, including disembodied voices, environmental/public sounds, white noise, etc as well as more directed, purposely constructed sheets of noise, bent-circuitry melodies, programmed synthesizer or computer flotsam, as well as sampled bits of music and/or dialogue from old films or TV shows, etc.
One thing that connects the 4:33 timeline to the original, silent space of Cage’s piece is that, although these artists use the exact same amount of time for each contribution, they are anything but silent. It’s like, instead of filling up the time with nothingness, they fill it up with what might be called “anti-music”, avant-garde, of course, but more like apres-avant-garde. As in the title of Shaun Robert’s piece, “Paradigm”, Musique Concrete is a showcase of a new paradigm of sound that one who is a more limited traditionalist wouldn’t deign to call “music” and have, no doubt, arguments as to why it isn’t “music”. But the same thing could be brought out into the wider arena of “art” – for example: back in the Middle Ages, through the Renaissance period, there was a certain standard of what was considered “art” and almost no one interfered with that paradigm – portraiture, landscapes; even allegorical fantasies were painted with identifiable figures and pictures. Even the 19th century Impressionists stayed within a certain boundary: while they may not have painted things in deep, dark, oil-based paintings of action frozen in time, the paintings they created did represent certain things – a meadow, a field of lilies, watercolor-daubed clouds over dream-like affairs. But in the beginning of the 20th Century, you suddenly had this group of intelligent yet eclectic paradigm makers who made a splash by imposing new styles on the world: there were the Cubists, led by Picasso and Georges Braque, Dadaists featuring Jean Arp, Tristan Tzara, Marcel Duchamp and Andre Breton as well as Man Ray, who’s brand new genus combined the medium of photography which he used to capture staged images of fractured imprints of his vivid imagination, not to mention the innovative way he used the medium of sculpture. Then the surrealists, such as Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky and others kept this spirit of an exciting new breed of art going- one that ignored tradition and declared that there were many, many things one could create and call art and it didn’t matter what the stodgy old critics wrote about it. If they couldn’t or wouldn’t accept this brave, new paradigm in both style and attitude that soon exploded into Abstract Expressionism – Jackson Pollock, being one of its innovators. A Pollock work, a century earlier would’ve caused a scandal and for sure, not just critics, but the still provincialized world would’ve revolted.
In comparing that to this CD and the style of music it represents: the sound of the future, not to say that it is the ONLY sound of the future, just as Abstract Expressionism wasn’t the end of art (there were and continue to be many schools of art that flourish as is evidenced by the wide variety one can see today by going to such a wonderful museum as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City or it’s West Coast sister museum, the San Francisco MOMA, the sounds that IFAR is producing/promoting isn’t the only music style to be imminent; there are many, many genres, subgenres, etc. that will keep up with the times, morphing into relevancy as needed and also, the great, timeless classics that have been played and heard by countless individuals over the past 400+ years (just as an example- hell, one could go back even further for examples of musical styles) will obviously never die off because they were created by visionaries whose talents have always transcended their own times and will keep on finding new listeners, generation after generation.
Besides Shaun Robert’s contribution, “Paradigm”, a few others worth mentioning include “Debbie Does Dallas”, an entropic visually audible piece done by what is called “Public Domain” (I am not sure if that means that all the sampled voices, film clips and various media pieces are in the public domain and don’t need to get any copyright license or if that is an actual band-sorry, for my ignorance there). Another mention is “4’33”, The Mark of the Beast” by Bryce Ellman, a hauntingly percussive piece, in which the drumming has a sound like footsteps amid some sharp sounds in the background, giving it a Poe-like ominousity to it. Also, The Mutant Beatniks show up here with their tune, “She Will Last Forever”and the final cut seems to come closest to the silence of Cage’s “4:33” silence: it has very little to it. It starts off with a bang of industrial clanging and then goes on to give the ear a strain by making it difficult to figure on what’s going on there – it’s made up of unknown sounds, such as might be the case if you were next to a building where there was some late night work being done but you could only (and very difficultly at that) what it was that they were doing.
Zreen Toys, Factor X and Anla Courtis are others who make contributions as well, but instead of going on, one by one, describing each distinct cut, I suggest you get yourself a copy. Go to www.bandcamp.com to find out how to get your copy of Musique Concrete as well as other releases by the IFAR gang. And – make way for the future, get ready for a whole new paradigm. –KM.