to eighty-six instruments and processing

Commission: Pierre Mercure

Premiere: August 3, 1961, Both John Cage’s works are performed simultaneously.: orchestra; Toshi Ichiyanagi, amplification; John Cage, conductor • International Week of Today’s Music: Concert 1, Théâtre de la comédie-canadienne, Montréal (Québec)

This piece, specially commissioned by Pierre Mercure for the International Week of Today’s Music, was premiered under the direction of Cage himself on August 3rd, 1961, in the Thêatre de la Comédie-Canadienne de Montréal (now called TNM). Atlas Eclipticalis represents a map of the stars, evoking in a pointillist manner the multiplicity of the voids and the pools of light that make up the heavens. The title, Atlas Eclipticalis, was taken from the astronomer Antonín Bečvář. Working from maps created by Bečvář and after multiple chance procedures guided by the I Ching, Cage draws his own celestial map — a starry sky, immutably slow but continually in motion. The score is written for 1 to 86 acoustic and electronic instruments; each part has four pages made up of five systems in which Cage draws a multitude of note clusters (the constellations). According to Cage’s instructions, the notes of these clusters are to be played in or out of order; they should be as short as possible or of only a perceptible length, never more than a bow-stroke or a breath. Their pitches are specific, but they have no rhythmic value; the tempo beat out by the clock of the conductor’s movements connects them and determines their duration. At any time, the musicians’ performance can be anywhere between minimum activity (silence) and maximum activity (what appears on the page).

Le Vivier presents a 26-instrument version and makes a parallel with the new music scene in Quebec.

[English translation: Ariadne Lih]