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[vpk004] toaster - plays songs from cardew's treatise

by vaporcake


I've loved avant-garde stuff for a long time; when I was a hell of a lot younger, I picked up a copy of John Zorn's "Cobra" at Newbury Comics during a record shopping trip to Boston (you had to go to Boston to get 'the weird shit'). I was fascinated by it, and spent ages trying to figure out 'what the hell was going on'-- there was really no information about it (or Zorn) generally available, and in the time before the internet, it was a sort of beautiful mystery. I began collecting what I could by oddball composers, and as both CDs (which were cheaper to make) and the internet (which made stuff easier to find) grew, so did my collection. However, it never really occurred to me to try playing any of this stuff; it seemed like a black art, and the musicians seemed like sorcerers, conjuring music out of odd drawings, held signs, and mysterious scrawls. Sometime last year, it occurred to me that I could simply order a score and play it. Why this had never really occurred to me before, I don't know. Maybe the idea of the 'beautiful mystery' was something I thought would be ruined if I actually hunkered down and played some of this stuff, maybe I thought I wasn't 'up to it' musically, or maybe I'm lazy. It's probably the last one.

Treatise was composed by Cornelius Cardew from 1963-1967. It's an imposing work, 193 pages in length, it's an entirely graphical score with no notes about instrumentation, or any instructions about how to perform it. While some people have used it as a jumping off point for improvisation, generally speaking, it's used as a score, with performers deciding in advance how to interpret it. Recordings of it are comparatively rare, and 'complete' ones rarer still (even at a zippy minute per page, you're talking three hours), so I wouldn't be overburdened by trying to 'match' a performance, and, by it's very nature, it's something which has no 'definitive' version.

Originally, I'd wanted to perform it entirely for solo guitar, but early experiments with that proved mostly unsatisfying-- the score is often too dense for that to seem right to me, though 'Page 83' is a solo acoustic guitar, with no overdubs.

I eventually grouped pages into 'songs', and decided to interpret each one as I saw fit, preparing in advance, making a few notes, and then letting the recording process dictate some of the interpretation. I kept to the guitar as the only instrument, adding in an old Califone turntable when I decided that numbers appearing on page 73 would correspond to 'rotations' of a record, and that pages 130-131 were for 'turntable and effects pedals'.

This was all recorded onto an 8 track, using overdubs where the score dictated, built up 'in real time' in one at a time layers. It was a slower, more deliberate way of working, with the most dense pieces (page 3, pages 7-14) taking hours upon hours to get together. I think the results are 'truer' to the score than I would have got with my initial approach, and 'not faking it' created the dense, knotty and sometimes weirdly intricate music that emerged. It's a document of an interesting set of experiments, and ultimately the fulfillment of an artistic goal. I hope you enjoy the results as much as I enjoyed the process.



released April 3, 2015


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