Too bad, as well, that the CalArts students didn't have the resource of the first complete recording of "Song Books," which was released this fall by the Brussels-based Sub Rosa label. Even though he made plenty of them himself, Cage didn't care for recordings. But most Cageans do. And, as with this "Song Books," the best of the new ones are a revelatory and undoubtedly lasting legacy of the Cage year.
This is especially true in the performances of a new generation of Cage specialists who have found ways to make some of his most formidably abstract music come to life. One is Giancarlo Simonacci, who has been recording Cage's piano music for the budget label Brilliant Classics. His latest is of the neglected Music for Piano, a two-hour series of 84 chance-derived miniatures from the mid-'50s that in the Italian pianist's lyrical hands sweetly sparkles like twinkling Christmas lights.
The even more formidably random "Etudes Australes," from two decades later, is the result of star charts transferred, through intricate change operations, to staff paper. These virtuosic studies can seem interminable, and the German pianist Sabine Liebner plays them, on a well-packed four-CD Wergo set, more slowly than ever. But at those navel-gazing tempos time slows down just as it can when you lose yourself in scrutinizing the starry sky on a clear night.
Nothing, however, equals going to the source if you want to sense how Cage could shake things up. The composer gave a series of lectures at the summer new music courses in Darmstadt, Germany, in 1958 that changed the course of new music in Europe. One of those sessions has been released as "Darmstadt Aural Documents Box 2" by the German label Neos, and it is riveting. "When we separate music from life," he says early on, "what we get is art (a compendium of masterpieces)," advice not much taken this year by many of the German Cage fetishists.
Three CDs, under the title "John Cage Shock!," document concerts Cage gave in Japan in 1962 with the pianist David Tudor and Japanese musicians (including Yoko Ono). They are beautifully produced on CDs or LPs by Omega Point and quite startling.
No one has ever been able to speak for Cage as well as he could for himself. An excellent way to discover this is in the new documentary "John Cage: Journeys in Sound" made for German television by Allan Miller and Paul Smaczny. It looks and sounds brilliant on Blu-ray.
Meanwhile, two small books offer fresh material. In 1976, a young student of religion sat down with Cage to speak about Zen for two hours and Larry A. Fader has now made a transcript of that interview available as "120'00"." The Slought Foundation in Philadelphia has brought out visual artist William Anastasi's "The Cage Dialogues." An artistic advisor of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Anastasi was also Cage's chess partner for 15 years, and his memoir is an affectionate real-life portrait of Cage by an astute observer.
What next? The Cage year has left us with so much more material that it will be even harder to get rid of it all. And unless the supposed Mayan prophecy comes true and everything gets destroyed, more, much more, is to come.