Sō Percussion - Cage 100: The Bootleg Series / by Doyle Armbrust

The new-music scene is in for a heavy dose of John Cage during his centennial this year. Sō Percussion’s Cage 100: The Bootleg Series could very well be the primer for the composer. Gathering some of the Cage’s best known works as well as original scores and collaborations with indie-electro dynamos such as Dan Deacon and Matmos, this sampler album arrives in a limited-edition run of 300, including a blank LP (think 4'33") cased in a handmade, gaffer-tape-decorated sleeve with a download of live, full-length performances.

Cage’s full-scale immersion in chance and indeterminacy often leaves studio recordings sounding stale in comparison to live performance. Cage 100 avoids this land mine, by serving up excerpts of lengthier pieces in random order and duration, but also by offering foils from other composers. Take Deacon’s “Bottles,” in which the Cage-like conceit of amplified soda bottles creates an architecture around which pitch flagella scurry.

On tracks such as “Third Construction,” perhaps Cage’s best-known percussion piece, cymbal rolls hiss on the edge of the aural precipice, as cowbells expertly hocket with bongos in an asphyxiating conversation. The important lesson here, which Sō Percussion proves so well, is that indeterminacy does not negate the necessity of talent and preparation.

- Doyle Armbrust

published in Time Out Chicago on April 25th, 2012