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John Cage: Journeys in Sound Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080i/60
  • Audio Codec: PCM 2.0 Stereo; DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Subtitles: French, English, German, Korean, Chinese
  • Region: ABC (Region-Free)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Discs: 1  (1x Blu-ray)
  • Studio: Accentus
  • Blu-ray Release Date: October 30, 2012
  • List Price: $39.99

Overall
[Rating:4/5]
The Film
[Rating:4/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:4/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(All TheaterByte screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG at 100% quality setting and are meant as a general representation of the content. They do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Film

[Rating:4/5]

John Cage was a musical iconoclast if there ever was one. Allan Miller and Paul Smaczny (co-director of the recently reviewed film Die Thomaner: A Year in the Life of the Boys Choir Leipzig) take a backward look at this very forward-looking composer. Cage began musical studies with composers Henry Cowell and Arnold Schoenberg but early on realized that he needed to break ranks with convention. Cage was best known for his piano piece 4’33,” literally four and a half minutes of silence (noted in the score as “tacet”). His compositions frequently used unconventional sources like bathtubs, radios, pianos prepared with nuts and bolts, and conch shells. Later, in his composing career, he inserted the use of chance operations or randomness in his scores, influenced by his embracing of I Ching, thus ensuring that no piece would sound the same in repeated performances. By contrast, John Cage: Journeys in Sound is a rather linear film that traces the composer’s development and his process of artistic invention. Along the various journeys, we connect with Cage and a number of his colleagues, friends and fans, including his widow Merce Cunningham,  John Lennon and Yoko Ono, artist William Anastasi, and pianist David Tudor (for whom 4’33”) was written. This is a fascinating portrait of an unusual artist who has had a lasting impact on modern music that has continued twenty years after his death.

Video Quality

[Rating:4/5]

The archival footage is dated and grainy as might be expected while the recent filmed sequences are extremely sharp with great colors, as demonstrated in a Japanese garden or close shots of his scores. Interpolated are excerpts from several Cage compositions highlighting their unconventional instruments. We are also treated to a wide and varied display of locations ranging from New York to Kyoto.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

For a film that centers on the creation of sound, a good soundtrack is vital to getting the point across. Here we get the full impact of the amazing aural palette that was contained in Cage’s playbook. The DTS-HD Master Audio version is extremely effective in the recreation of space and detail, noticeably better than the two-channel counterpart.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:4/5]

The bonuses here are substantial and include several of Cage’s more popular compositions:

  • 4’33”
  • Second Construction
  • Sonata I (for Prepared Piano)
  • Water Music (not what you might think-it uses real water)
  • Interview with Cage, Merce Cunningham, and painter Robert Rauschenberg

The booklet included with this disc features an interesting interview with director Miller.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4/5]

John Cage will deliver a real shock to the senses of listeners accustomed to traditional classical music forms. Unlike his predecessors, Cage opened up the sonic spectrum with unconventional instruments and performance practices. Those coming to this composer for the first time will find his works either fascinating or perverse. Either way, this documentary is an excellent way to meet one of the 20th century’s most challenging musical figures on his own turf. Thanks go to Accentus for making this BD available and giving it such great production values.

Additional Screen Captures

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Overall
[Rating:4/5]
The Film
[Rating:4/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:4/5]


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