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John Cage and Lejaren Hiller: HPSCHD (1967-69)

From the album HPSCHD


On May 16, 1969, the 16,000-seat Assembly Hall of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was the site of one of the most ambitious multimedia spectacles of the 20th century: HPSCHD (from the computer abbreviation for harpsichord), a collaborative work by John Cage and Lejaren Hiller.

The piece comprised seven specially-composed solos for amplified harpsichord, based on aleatorically generated results of the Musikalisches Würfelspiel (Musical Dice Game) attributed to Mozart, as well as randomly selected excerpts from Mozart’s piano sonatas and samples from the music of Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Gottschalk, Busoni, Schoenberg, and others.  The harpsichord parts, to be played simultaneously or in succession in a manner determined by the performers, were accompanied by the computer-generated sounds recorded on tape and projected from a circle of 52 loudspeakers surrounding the audience.  Each tape part used a different division of the octave, with scales ranging from five to 56 steps.

For the premiere, multimedia artist Ronald Nameth prepared more than 6,400 slides and 40 films to be projected on the 11 massive screens of the hall.  The footage included Méliès' A Trip to the Moon and the computer films of John and James Whitney. The first performance of HPSCHD lasted about five hours and was attended by some 8,000 people.

This excerpt of the work is taken from the 2003 recording realized by Joel Chadabe, with Robert Conant playing the harpsichord solos.


Played 140 time(s).

January 07, 2010, 5:24pm

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