Long before John Cage created Empty Words, he was already encouraging the performer of his music to “let go of his feelings, his taste, his automatism, his sense of universal, not attaching himself to this or that, leaving by his performance no traces, providing by his actions no interruption to the fluency of nature.” In their recording of this epic vocal piece the quintet Varispeed, together with ten supporting musicians, seem to have absorbed Cage’s radiant words as they plough through the shard-like composition completely absorbing its incandescence into their hearts and minds – as Cage would have it – to create a deeply committed and meticulously prepared performance, produced with magical results.
Cage’s monumentally challenging work calls for invention over and above that precise quality that the composer built into his work. On Empty Words – literally words stripped of meaning – the ensemble uses male and female human voices propelled on a collision course with acoustic (woodwinds, strings, percussion and piano), electronic boards and prepared (glass) instruments. The result turns Cage’s effect of splintering and pointillist sound into an exploitation of a wide range of sonorities, some bright, some bell-like, others more delicate and subdued. Rhythmic motifs and patterns recur, producing an incantory and hypnotic quality.
Varispeed’s experience as improvisers makes their presence felt in this tactile articulation of Cage’s driving rhythms and percussive “ungrooves” with uncommon perfection ranging from the lyrical to the difficult and disturbing.