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Ensemble brings John Cage's music to life

LINKS performance is thought-provoking, inspirational

Albuquerque's LINKS Ensemble performed "Concert for America: Music of John Cage" to a full-house Friday evening at the Outpost Performance Space.

The cast of LINKS Ensemble includes members John Bartlit, Fred Bugbee, Hovey Dean Corbin, Andria Fennig and Douglas Nottingham, as well as participation by Jeff Benham, Daniel Davis, Kristen Loree and Tracy Copeland. LINKS Ensemble includes many former UNM students and members of heavy-metal vaudeville troupe SkÅmbÑÑg and was created in 1988 to present Stuart Saunders Smith's "Initiatives and Reactions." Since then, the ensemble has conquered many forms of theater, dance, multimedia and trans-media work.

The concert consisted of Cage pieces written between the years 1942 to 1962. "Variations III," which included within it the pieces "Branches," "`27'10.554' for a percussionist," "Cheap Imitation," "Music for Piano, no. 20," "Music for Piano, no. 3" and "Composed Improvisation for Snare Drum," was by far the most thought-provoking and, at times, confusing movement of the evening. While the individual musical numbers were played simultaneously throughout the lengthy piece, it also had a constant inspirational visual aspect.

Benham and Loree painted and drew on an easel that stood in the center of the stage and danced from one end of the performance area to the other with interpretive and expressive gestures that didn't necessarily tell a story or clarify the meanings of the music, but helped give the feeling of continual change and movement.

"Variations III" had at least three things going on at any one point in time, and interestingly, the audience eventually became part of the performance itself. People's heads moved from side to side as the audience attempted to catch a glimpse of everything that was happening on stage. Every person and thing in the room was curiously involved in the piece. While "Variations III" was full of movement and intentional sound, the piece "4'33,"" exemplified a use of sound that was much less traditional.

Bartlit sat down to the piano and poised his hands above the keys and . played nothing. He sat still, prepared to play and let silence envelop the room. At three points during the silence he readjusted his posture, but still no music came out of the instrument. What seemed, on the surface, to be an exercise in silence, turned out to be an exercise in listening. All of the sounds within the performance space - whether it was the sounds of the building settling, people fidgeting in their chairs or even coughing and breathing - became the loudest in the room, and thus Cage was able to point out that noise, as it exists in everyday life, is music. It took a few moments to realize the point of the piece, but it ended up being a profound lesson.

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"Amores," "Credo in US" and "Third Construction," which Cage wrote earlier in his career, were equally as entertaining as the first two numbers but were definitely more structured. The quartet percussion of "Third Construction" was an amazing show of talent by Bugbee, Bartlit, Corbin and Nottingham. The flourish of beats coming together as one, separating into four unique directions and coming together again later was breathtaking. The surge and build-up of a wall of sound at the finale left the crowd speechless and the group received a standing ovation.

Cage, who lived from 1912 to 1992, is known as a musician who continuously pushed the boundaries of music. His early connections were outside the world of music and more fixed in the world of dance. Cage studied with Adolph Weiss in New York City in preparation for his studies with Arnold Schoenberg in California in the mid-'30s. Cage eventually settled in New York City where he continued to create music as well as write poetry. Cage has become known as an innovator of American avant garde and was one of the first composers to create electronic music.

"I think he (Cage), from the very beginning saw music as one of the ways to make art," said Dr. Christopher Shultis, UNM's Regents music professor who has studied Cage. "In fact, a composer named Morton Feldman once said about Cage that the problem with Cage is that Cage thinks music is an `art form' and that maybe it isn't."

Shultis, author of many articles on Cage as well as the book "Silencing of the Sounded Self," was at Friday's performance and participated in "Branches."

"Another interesting thing I think, except for the very end (of his life) . one of the things that was always the intention was to continue to push the envelope," Shultis said. "(Cage) never had a period where he decided he'd gone too far. In the stereotypical sense of when a person gets older they become more conservative; that definitely was never his intention. He definitely was on the side of the radical."

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