“Edgar Varèse and the Jazzmen” Audio

“Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse, whose name was also spelled Edgar Varèse (December 22, 1883 – November 6, 1965), was an innovative French-born composer who spent the greater part of his career in the United States.

Varèse’s music features an emphasis on timbre and rhythm. He was the inventor of the term “organized sound”, a phrase meaning that certain timbres and rhythms can be grouped together, sublimating into a whole new definition of music. Although his complete surviving works only last about three hours, he has been recognised as an influence by several major composers of the late 20th century. His use of new instruments and electronic resources led to his being known as the “Father of Electronic Music” while Henry Miller described him as “The stratospheric Colossus of Sound”.

From wfmu.org (Beware Of The Blog)

“Today’s post is something I stumbled upon in the dark and dusty corners of the Internet, a tape recording of composer Edgar Varèse conducting a workshop of Jazz musicians in the year 1957. Here is the original announcement of the MP3 release of these tapes.

Edgard Varèse conducts a workshop with jazzmen Art Farmer (trumpet), Hal McKusik (clarinet, alto sax), Teo Macero (tenor sax), Eddie Bert (trombone), Frank Rehak (trombone), Don Butterfield (tuba), Hall Overton (piano), Charlie Mingus (bass), Ed Shaughnessy (drums), probably John La Porta (alto sax)… We don’t know who is on vibes…

It might be the first free jazz recording (totally unissued) of History of Music. Varèse might have influenced jazzmen or was he only aware of what was happening on the jazz scene? No matter of the answer, it’s a bomb, as this music is 3 years earlier than Free Jazz by Ornette Coleman! We also know Charlie Parker wanted to study with Varèse in autumn 1954 but the composer flew to Europe to conduct Déserts. When he came back to New York in May 1955, Parker had already died. We also know that Varèse used to listen to John Coltrane at the Village.

Between March and August 1957, these Sunday jam-sessions were followed by arranger George Handy, journalist Robert Reisner, composers James Tenney, Earle Brown and John Cage, choreographer Merce Cunningham. The organizers were Earle Brown and Teo Macero who will become Miles Davis‘ producer among others. Varèse used certain extracts of the workshop for his Poème électronique.

The original of this tape is at Fondation Paul Sacher.

“Please excuse the crappy audio quality, it is the best we have.”

John Cage


John Milton Cage Jr. (September 5, 1912 – August 12, 1992) was an American composer, philosopher, poet, music theorist, artist, printmaker, and amateur mycologist and mushroom collector. A pioneer of chance music, electronic music and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde. Critics have lauded him as one of the most influential American composers of the 20th century. He was also instrumental in the development of modern dance, mostly through his association with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was also Cage’s romantic partner for most of their lives.

Cage is perhaps best known for his 1952 composition 4′33″, the three movements of which are performed without a single note being played. The content of the composition is meant to be perceived as the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed, rather than merely as four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence, and the piece became one of the most controversial compositions of the twentieth century. Another famous creation of Cage’s is the prepared piano (a piano with its sound altered by placing various objects in the strings), for which he wrote numerous dance-related works and a few concert pieces, the best known of which is Sonatas and Interludes (1946–48).

His teachers included Henry Cowell (1933) and Arnold Schoenberg (1933–35), both known for their radical innovations in music and coincidentally their shared love of mushrooms, but Cage’s major influences lay in various Eastern cultures. Through his studies of Indian philosophy and Zen Buddhism in the late 1940s, Cage came to the idea of chance-controlled music, which he started composing in 1951. The I Ching, an ancient Chinese classic text on changing events, became Cage’s standard composition tool for the rest of his life. In a 1957 lecture, Experimental Music, he described music as “a purposeless play” which is “an affirmation of life – not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living”.

From: essl.at

Fontana Mix was composed in 1958 at the Studio do Fonologia in Milan where John Cage was working on a piece for four tape recorders. The composition is unusually notated – the score consists of sheets and transparencies with printed points, squares, curves and lines that are to be freely overlayed upon one another. The constellations that result from this chance procedure are applied to musical parameters to create a possible realization of the piece.

This isn’t an ‘opus’ in the classical sense, rather it is a ‘construction kit’ for non-intentional production of music, which allows the creation of different pieces: along with Fontana Mix for tape, John Cage composed Aria for mezzo soprano (1958), Water Walk (1959), Theater Piece for 1-8 performers (1960), and Cornelius Cardew used it for the realization of his Solo for Guitar.

In Fontana Mix Cage developed his concept of indeterminacy that he continued to use in countless variations throughout his life. As a composer, he separated himself from his work, so that the work’s existence was not dependent on subjective compositional decisions, but rather on the objective instance – chance. The aim of this non-intentionality is the freeing of sounds, to let them exist on their own, instead of being used to express emotion or meaning. Associated with this is the rejection of any expression.

Cage did not intend that the application of chance was a license for free choice. As an artist concerned with ‘structural thinking’, Cage invented ingenious composition systems in which precisely defined sound material was organized ‘non-intentionally’ based on his systems of rules. For Fontana Mix and Variations he developed a graphic chance generator, afterwards he used the Chinese oracle book I-Ging, and from the 1980’s on, he used a computer program developed by Andrew Culver. It’s no wonder that Cage integrated the computer into his production process. It freed him from the time consuming and tedious labour of communicating chance values but still lead to the wished-for result: sounds, free of intentional arrangement.

Press Here To Download A Copy Of Fontana Mixer 1.1 By Karlheintz Essl (Mac only)

Edgard Varêse and Le Corbusier


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Poême électronique 1958

First presented at the 1958 Brussels Worlds Fair with 425 speakers placed throughout the famous Philips pavilion, the placement of the speakers and design of the building gave the spectators a feeling of being housed within a concrete, silver seashell. A giant model of the atom hung from the ceiling and the sound & imagery premiered to standing room only crowds and I can only imagine was a complete mind-blower to all who witnessed the spectacle. Varese is considered to be the “father of electronic music”, Henry Miller described him as the “stratospheric colossus of sound.” When Philips (Philips electronic company) approached Le Corbusier to design a building for the fair, Le Corbusier said, “I will not make a pavilion for you (Philips) but an Electronic Poem and a vessel containing the poem; light, color, image, rhythm and sound joined together in an organic synthesis.”

Thanks to Ubuweb.