Created in 1977 by students of Toronto’s York University Music Department, The Glass Orchestra (hereafter: the Orchestra) benefited from favorable local factors in its rise to a leading, world-class performing act. The university’s music teachers included David Rosenboom and Richard Teitelbaum and was welcoming contemporary experiments and avantgarde composers – John Cage premiered his Lecture on the Weather at York in 1976 (in which Miguel Frasconi performed) and some future Orchestra members took part to a performance of David Tudor’s Rain Forest installation in 1975, when Tudor visited the university as a guest artist/lecturer. Some Orchestra members also studied with pianist and improvisation teacher Casey Sokol. Launched by Al Mattes and Peter Anson with generous government funding in 1976, the Music Gallery, then located on 30 St Patrick Street, held weekly concerts and various music festivals, ensuring regular gigs and emulation with local and visiting musicians. In 1980, the Glass Orchestra performed there regularly the first Wednesday of each month, and toured extensively across Asia, North America and Europe during the 1980s. Contrary to what I wrote in my first Orchestra post, they never studied with R. Murray Schafer, though, and their influences must be found elsewhere.
The core members of the classic Orchestra were Marvin Green (b Toronto 1956), who was then running the Music Gallery Editions of live recordings and LP releases, and half of the Pitch duo with John Oswald, 1976-1982 ; Eric Cadesky (b Toronto 1956), who created many of the Orchestra’s glass instruments ; Paul Hodge (b Toronto 1957), the Gallery’s technical director ; Miguel Frasconi (b New York City, 1956), composer and performer with the New Music Co-op, created 1970, and pianist with the Three Sided Room quartet, along Paul Hodge (clarinet, autoharp), John Oswald (saxophone) and Marvin Green (bass, voice). They performed at the Ear It Live festival, Toronto, 1980.
When the Music Gallery Editions had to cease publishing records, the Orchestra decided to create their own label and to launch things off with this exquisite single, released 1981. Text and music on both sides were totally spontaneous and recorded during longer improvisations in the Orchestra’s own rehearsal space at the time, an art deco building on 31 Mercer Street, coincidentally the ex-headquarters of the Pilkington Glass Company. Fred’s Fable definitely carries a feeling of exhilaration and contagious joy. The hilarious story-telling juxtaposes a nonsensical children’s tale with weird sounds from the glass instruments, including speaking in a bowl and a rhythm track played on water (1:40), presumably emulating a washing-machine! The music is both exotic, dreamy and funny, from a variety of glass percussion and flutes. Marvin Green is the lead vocalist on Fred’s Fable, though Eric Cadesky and Miguel Frasconi start things off with their own vocal interjections. That same year (1981) Frasconi played bowl gongs on Jon Hassel‘s Dream Theory in Malaya, recorded in Hamilton, Ontario. On Malay, a recording of a ‘joy-filled water splash rhythm’ by Asian children, edited and looped by Paul Fitzgerald, is used as a rhythm track for almost the entire composition. The result is close to Fred’s Fable, though the Orchestra have a more communal sense of having fun. Note on the same Hassel LP Canadian composer Andrew Timar is credited with frog field recording – he appeared on several Musicworks cassettes as well.
The most striking feature on Verrillon 9, recorded during a public concert on Mercer Street, is the use of a long glass tube played by Marvin Green, its end placed in a glass bowl filled with water, as depicted on the cover. At first it sounds like a regular glass flute, but soon transmogrifies into a weird instrument when submerged in water, its eery sound contrasting with the pseudo-ethnic rhythm played on glass by Cadesky and Hodge, with bass by Frasconi. The frequent use of water in the Glass Orchestra is possibly derived from some John Cage‘s composition like Water Music, 1952, for various objects and water containers, a piece Miguel Frasconi frequently performed himself around 1981. During the 1952 premiere, David Tudor poured water from various pots into others, in addition to playing the piano and radio. Another Cage composition using water is Inlets, 1977, for 3 gurgling consh-shells filled with water. In an interview published in Musicworks journal, issue #17, 1981, Miguel Frasconi asks John Cage about his Water Music and also tries to have Cage’s opinion about glass music. Frasconi: ‘John Higgins once told me he was in a class of yours at Welseyan University and there was some sort of exhibit there of glass sculpture. And one day you took the class over there and asked them to make sounds with the sculptures. Have you ever made a piece using glass? – No, I never did’, Cage replies.
Thanks to Eric Cadesky and Miguel Frasconi for permission and invaluable information.
The Glass Orchestra ‘Tales from Siliconesia’:
01 Fred’s Fable (4:44)
02 Verrillon 9 (6:50)
Total time 11:34
7” single released by The Glass Orchestra, GO01 EP, Canada, 1981