Varispeed – Empty Words

released digitally and on CD on January 20th, 2019

In 2012, to celebrate John Cage’s centennial, Varispeed created a new arrangement of his epic, rarely performed work Empty Words. They transformed Cage’s original 12-hour vocal solo voice into an overnight experience for multiple voices and instrumentsreinventing and paying homage to Cage’s meditation on the voice’s power to transform language into music.

Gold Bolus is pleased to release a recording of highlights from their performance.  Condensed from the first quarter of the work, which took place at Roulette in Brooklyn, the album showcases Varispeed’s skills as vocalists and electronic musicians, backed by a mixed ensemble of strings, winds, glass instruments, percussion, and sitar. In the concert, performers were strewn around the space – on the stage, up in the balcony, in the lobby – and audience members were free to come and go. The album presents the very best performances and hints at the overall transformation of language into music that continued in other locations throughout the night, culminating in a soundwalk over the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise.

Tracks range from the lush, orchestral texture of “and we fs” to the dense noise of “but decided tints weeds” and the suddenly song-like “harm To Boulder Field”, which shows off the unique vocal talents and stylistic diversity of Varispeed’s five members – Gelsey Bell, Brian McCorkle, Paul Pinto, Dave Ruder, and Aliza Simons. The paramount importance of the voice and the guiding through line of Cage’s text propel Varispeed toward the virtuoso vocalizations for which they have become known. 

Written in the early 1970s, Empty Words stands as an epic culmination of Cage’s exploration of the “demilitarization” of syntax and the voice’s power to evacuate meaning and create music. Using Thoreau’s journals as his source text, Cage employed chance procedures to remove all syntax from the original, creating four separate movements through which the level of textual abstraction grows.

Arranged and performed by Varispeed:
Gelsey Bell – voice, vocoder, piano
Brian McCorkle – voice, Korg MS2000, homemade electronics, piano
Paul Pinto – voice, sampler, piano
Dave Ruder – voice, Max/MSP, piano
Aliza Simons – voice, homemade electronics, piano

Ann Adachi – flute
Cory Bracken – vibraphone
Maya Bennardo – violin
Carlo Costa – percussion
Miguel Frasconi – glass instruments
Woody Leslie – sitar
Hannah Levinson – viola
Andrew Livingston – double bass
Erin Rogers – alto saxophone
Jeffrey Young – violin