Album: John Cager, Yoanji (Hat Art)

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The Independent Culture

The Zen garden at the Temple of Ryoanji made a huge impression on John Cage when he visited Japan in 1962, but it took him until the 1980s before the experience bore musical fruit.

The individual sounds of Ryoanji are determined according to tracings of 15 rocks in groupings reflecting those in the original garden, the individual lines played as long, intersecting glissandi by mostly wind instruments and voice, over a sparse pulse of unison wood and metal percussion, representing the raked gravel. It's meditative, yet focuses attention tightly on the sparingly-used sounds: the trombone's low timbre is especially notable. As with the best of Cage's work, it has the ability to freeze time, enabling an acute experience of simply being, as its Zen origins suggest.