John Cage, CAGE: Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

In the '30s, Cage set about inventing a one-man percussion ensemble using what he had at hand: the piano. By putting rubber erasers, metal bolts, bits of wood and similar materials at predetermined places on the strings inside the piano, Cage completely altered the sounds that occurred when he hit the keys. The resulting "prepared piano" evoked Indonesia and West Africa instead of Central Europe. Having invented the instrument in 1933, Cage set about writing its first masterpiece. Composed in the early '40s, the Sonatas and Interludes consists of a series of relatively brief, rhythmic works, some of them surprisingly melodic and strangely lyrical. All of them inhabit a mysterious musical space that must've had audiences in the '40s wondering what planet it came from; remarkably, this collection, now available in at least five different recordings, still sounds as new and as relevant today.