The Bohlen-Pierce Symposium
First symposium on the Bohlen-Pierce scale, Boston, March 7 – 9, 2010
Cohen: Homage to Cage 2

Lou Cohen: Homage to Cage 2  (2010)

(quadraphonic electronic composition employing Bohlen-Pierce temperament)

I combined several methods to produce this piece and I must say it was an emotional journey. I was one of Cage’s students in 1958 when he was teaching composition at the New School in NYC. At that time, he was very supportive of whatever music his students wrote, but he often spoke of his own methods.He had already completed Music Of Changes (a few years earlier I think), and he explained a few times how he used chance methods to write that piece. I’m not sure, but it may have been his first piece using chance in any way. I did not, immediately after that period, use chance the way he did, although I have used random methods a great deal in my music, but lately I have been thinking about Cage’s influence on me a great deal, and I decided to use similar techniques to those of Music Of Changes in Homage To Cage 2. To begin, I created a “Pierce gamut,” based on the equal-tempered version of the Bohlen-Pierce scale: a series of frequencies ranging from slow audible clicks, through low notes, all the way to frequencies well above what I can myself hear. Therefore, even the slow clicks are part of the Pierce temperament. I then modified my laptop csound improviser to play only the frequencies from that gamut.I then improvised and recorded 30 minutes of source-sound, with as much variety as I could muster.I then set up an OpenOffice spreadsheet in which I used two of its random number generators to determine the number of sections, the length of each section, the number of sound-events, the length of each sound-event, the output channel (1, 2, 3 or 4) and the portion of the 30-minute source-sound section to be used as the source for each sound-event. I then cut-and-pasted the sound-events into the final composition. Finally I adjusted the levels of each sound-event to suit my personal taste.The cut-and-paste process was quite tedious, but I imagined Cage doing much the same thing and was comforted by this image. Christian Wolff told me, years ago, that Cage often listened to the radio while working this way — but I didn’t do that.