Desert Island Discs

Kenneth Goldsmith

1. JOHN CAGE: 4'33" (1952). The classic. In three movements. Premiered by David Tudor on piano, although it sounds pretty good even in transcriptions. Not to be confused with either the showier 0'00" (1962), "to be performed in any way by anyone" "in a situation provided with maximum amplification," or the watered-down Tacet (1960), which "may be performed by (any) instrumentalist or combination of instrumentalists and last any length of time." Recommended recordings: Frank Zappa's acoustic rendition on A Chance Operation [Koch 7238], or Lassigue Bendthaus' electronic version on Render [KK Records 115]; the definitive recording of 0'00" is by Peter Pfister [hat ART CD 2-6070]. For real range and lots of artistic license (well, lots of license at least), check out Roel Meelkop's compilation of nine different performances on 45:18 [Korm Plastics 3005].

2. KEN FRIEDMAN: Zen for Record (1966). Blank phonograph record in homage to Nam June Paik's Zen for Film (1964): a 16mm film consisting only of clear leader (often claimed to be an hour long, the screening I saw was advertised as 10 minutes, though it clocked in at closer to 8). Not to be confused with Christine Kozlov's Transparent Film #2 (16mm) from 1967, or Madison Brookshire's 2007 sound film Five Times, an audio update of Ernie Gehr's 1970 History ("five rolls of film, unedited, spliced one after the other," as Brookshire describes his version: "The only images and sounds come from the light that reaches the film when it is loaded into and taken out of the camera"). The incidental soundtrack to Paik's film is a lot louder than Friedman's disc. If you get a chance, sit near the projectionist; even after only eight minutes you'll never forget the nervous clack and twitter of the shutter, blinking like a blinded Cyclopes in the noonday sun...

3. YVES KLEIN: Symphonie Monoton-Silence (1957). Meant to provide a sonic equivalent of his monochrome paintings, the second movement of Klein's Symphony consists of twenty minutes of silence -- just enough time to give the audience a chance to shake the sense of ringing from their ears: the first twenty minutes consists of a sustained D-major chord. The work was originally conceived for full Wagnerian orchestra, but performed in 1960 at the Galerie International d'Art Contemporain by a small chamber orchestra who memorized the score on short notice (though perhaps after peeking at the scrupulously notated version prepared by Pierre Henry a few years earlier). There is also a later, atmospheric version scored for mixed choir, strings, flutes, oboes, and horns. Not to be confused with the similar-sounding conclusion to Guy Debord's film Hurlements en faveur de Sade (1952), which stretches aggressively on for a full four minutes longer. Though he denies any influence, Klein, not coincidentally, was present at the premiere screening. There are rumors that Klein also issued a completely silent recording, in 1959, of a Concert de vide [Concert of Vacuum] (not to be confused with Sir Malcolm Arnold's roughly contemporaneous concert of vacuum cleaners [Op. 57, 1956]).

4. REYNOLS: Blank Tapes (1999). Yep. Pieces made by the digital and analog processing of blank magnetic tapes. But special blank tapes, some of which had been saved, with a kind of touching sentimentality, since 1978. A lot noisier than the Argentine trio's first release, Gordura Vegetal Hidrogenada, which was a "dematerialized cd" (it came as an empty jewel case, reprising Psychodrama's 1984 release No Tape, a cassette shell that did not, as promised, contain any tape [the band's best release to date]). That (lack of a) debut CD was appropriate for a group whose leader, Miguel Tomasin, occasionally asserted that they don't exist. Tomasin, whose Down's Syndrome misprisions were taken as oracular pronouncements by his partners Alan Courtis and Roberto Conlazo, also regularly announced that the United States doesn't exist either. Which substantially cut down on his touring there. As Tomasin also says: todo afrazarmo de lo spolido cintas [TrenteOiseaux 002].

5. LANGUAGE REMOVAL SERVICE: Static Language Sampler (2003). State of the art in speech elimination, LRS cleans and purifies recordings of all language. Sources from their ever expanding archive include entries from various categories: "divas" (Callas, Monroe, Dietrich), "critics" (Susan Sontag, Noam Chomsky), "musicians" (Mingus, Monk, Cage), "artists" -- well, I guess they're actually all divas once you think about it. In every case, LRS takes out the words but leaves all the other sounds untouched: air whistling in buccal cavities, the pool and drain of saliva and phlegm, the glottal pops and deglutinations that punctuate the inframince spaces between even the most rapid speech. With that speech liberated from the distracting clamor of language, the cleansed recordings let ye soft pipes play ever on. With a good pair of headphones you can almost imagine the aolean echo of inspiration and the calcinated drip off stalactites in the caverns of bucolic grottos... [promotional CD].

More Desert Island Discs

Jennifer L. Knox

Full disclosure: despite my seven-year stint as a third-chair clarinetist, my musical vocabulary is limited to simian gestures, deep nods, and stink-face grimaces. No doubt, if I could describe, in proper terms, how music does what it does, I would be a phenomenally wealthy woman.

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Jen Benka

My great-grandmother Phoebe was French-Canadian. My mother, who was named for her, studied in Quebec for a spell, and eventually became a French teacher. She had several albums by Edith Piaf that she acquired in the 1950s and 1960s, and certain Piaf songs—like the plaintiff yet commanding "Mon Dieu" and "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien"— are part of the soundtrack of my childhood.

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