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John Cage: 4 Solos for Voice - Solos for Voice 93-96 (PFCD122) £12.50

Performed by Electric Phoenix


(1) 4 Solos for Voice 14’54 Electric Phoenix
(2) Solo for Voice 93 14’14 Judith Rees
(3) Solo for Voice 94 13’49 Meriel Dickinson
(4) Solo for Voice 95 14’13 Daryl Runswick
(5) Solo for Voice 96 14’11 Terry Edwards

Tracks 2-5 are world première recordings

4 solos CD

'4 Solos for Voice' was composed by John Cage for the ensemble Electric Phoenix and had its world première at Merkin Hall in New York in June 1988.

"For this recording, made several years after the world première of '4 Solos for Voice' (and indeed after Cage’s death) I as producer adopted several procedures which I hope he would have approved of. At the 1988 rehearsal Cage stipulated that in performance we should ignore one another completely – never interact in any way. For the recording I decided we would record the four solos separately and not as an ensemble, and that the recordings would be assembled into performances later. In actual performance it is virtually impossible to ignore one another – although on stage we positioned ourselves apart and out of each other’s eyeline – but here we could be truly independent. I therefore summoned each of the singers to John Whiting’s October Sound studio alone and they recorded their music in the presence only of John and myself. We recorded each vocal event separately and stopped the tape (it was still Digital Audio Tape in those days) between events. In this way we could re-record an event as many times as we wanted until we were pleased with it. This meant we ended up with a collection of dozens of single events which could then be assembled into complete performances. At the sessions I instructed each singer to nominate a start time for each event, within the parameters stipulated by Cage in the score. We each picked our start times randomly, unaware of what times the others had picked. I then took the recorded events to my own studio and assembled them strictly in accordance with the chosen times. This process, I believe, provided a good approximation of Cage’s ‘chance operations’, and the results, as he would have predicted, throw up some wonderfully serendipitous juxtapositions. At the 1988 rehearsal Cage prescribed several places in each Solo where the singer might choose to do a visual event. Cage came up with this idea during the rehearsal, and later provided four places in each singer's score, one of which they were to choose during performance. The places (which he arrived at using chance operations) are between the printed events at various places, marked in Electric Phoenix's copies in the singers' handwriting with a boxed V (for ‘Visual’ – see the example). Electric Phoenix's toys were: Judith Rees, blowing bubbles; Meriel Dickinson, a fan; myself, a false nose; Terry Edwards, a party popper. This would obviously not ‘read’ in audio (today we would have recorded with video). As producer I therefore chose to substitute a noise for each visual event, to be inserted as per instruction at one of Cage’s prescribed times. The noises we chose were: Judith Rees, two wood blocks played with a beater; Meriel Dickinson, a mechanical clown’s laugh; myself, turning on a digital camera and taking a picture; Terry Edwards, crumpling a snack carton.

In 2017, having listened to '4 Solos for Voice' many times, I took cognizance of the fact that these are also four solos. They are intended to be performed both separately and together. The method I had used of recording the voices meant that the extraction of solo versions was an easy matter: the solo versions are exactly the same recordings as the ensemble version, separated out. For the listener’s convenience I have not allowed much silence at the start of the performances. Cage prescribes a random time between nought and forty-five seconds, chosen in real time by the performer. For listening purposes I have imposed a seven-second silence at the beginning of each track. Purists can ‘insert’ their own silences at the beginnings of the tracks as follows: Judith and the quartet performance, 35 seconds including the silence provided; Meriel, 25 seconds; Daryl, 37 seconds; Terry, 34 seconds."
Daryl Runswick

Recorded at October Sound, London on 10th May 1999
Recording engineer and sound treatments John Whiting
Produced, assembled and mixed by Daryl Runswick at The Dream Room, London, 1999
Remixed and the solo versions extracted at The Sign, Wales, 2019
Cover images: John Cage © Steve Gunther, Electric Phoenix © Daryl Runswick
Booklet images © Electric Phoenix.

Electric Phoenix

Electric Phoenix
Electric Phoenix was the brainchild in 1977-8 of four members of the vocal group Swingle II; Linda Hirst, John Potter, Simon Grant and Terry Edwards. Terry was Swingle II's manager and sound projectionist and at first fulfilled the same role in Electric Phoenix; the other three were singers, mezzo-soprano, tenor and bass respectively. With the recruitment of the Canadian soprano Karen Jensen, a post-graduate student at the Royal Academy of Music, the standard quintet format for Electric Phoenix was established and remained the group's basis for the roughly 20 years of its lifespan.

Electric Phoenix was created in order to fulfil a specific and radical ambition: to establish a completely new repertoire, absent from the world of contemporary music at that time, involving the new vocal production pioneered by Berio among others, microphone singing and electronics. This repertoire would radically advance contemporary compositional and vocal techniques; and the development and invention of specific new electronic technology was envisaged in line with the then rapidly-expanding world of synthesis and electro-acoustics. The name Electric Phoenix (Electric because of the intention to sing on microphone and use state-of-the-art electronics and Phoenix because the group saw itself as rising from the ashes of Swingle II) was invented by John Potter.

Sixty-two new works were performed by Electric Phoenix between 1978 and 1997. These included commissions from established masters such as Henri Pousseur and John Cage (who came to the October Sound studio one memorable day in 1988 to work with Electric Phoenix) and an extraordinarily inventive younger generation of composers including David Bedford, William Brooks, Neely Bruce, Rolf Gehlhaar, Daryl Runswick, Kaija Saariaho and Trevor Wishart. The group performed in many celebrated concert halls, including Vienna Musikverein, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Finlandia Hall Helsinki, IRCAM Paris, Royal Albert Hall, Usher Hall Edinburgh, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York.

Notes by Daryl Runswick / Terry Edwards