CD 1
Chess Show – live version | 2017 (64:00)
Opening Performance Orchestra – concept & electronics
Reinhold Friedl – piano / toy piano / other devices for Song Books

CD 2
Chess Show – 4'34" version (64:00)
Opening Performance Orchestra – concept & electronics
Miroslav Beinhauer – piano

World premiere recordings

CD 1 recorded live at the Ostrava Days festival in Ostrava, 25 August 2017, mastered by Michael Fossenkemper, Turtle Tone Studio, NYC

CD 2 recorded at re-set studio, Prague, June / August 2021, mastered by Stephan Mathieu

Producer: Wulf Weinmann
Executive producer: re-set production

Liner notes by Richard Kostelanetz, Sean Bronzell, Dove Bradshaw, Daan Vandewalle, Petr Ferenc

Photographs: Phill Niblock, Opening Performance Orchestra
Illustrations: “Chessboard variations” by Milan Guštar, “I Ching variations” by Jaroslav Buzek

Cover Art: Jaroslav Buzek
Translations: Markus Elsner, Wieland Hoban (German), Hilda Hearne (English), Baudime Jam (French)

Special thanks for Ostrava Center for New Music and Ostrava Days 2017 for the live recordings
Renata Spisarová and Petr Kotík, Laura Kuhn & John Cage Trust
Provided Courtesy of the John Cage Trust

NEOS Music GmbH 121113-14

“The sound is transformed and restored, but in an unrecognizable manner! It is reborn. It is perpetual rebirth or reincarnation. It is life. And that goes on and on.” This quotation from John Cage’s book For the Birds resonates in individual versions of Chess Show, a composition created by Prague-based Opening Performance Orchestra.
The idea of Chess Show originated in the mid-1990s when it was played non-publicly under the title Cagemix. In 1962, John Cage used for his composition Atlas Eclipticalis maps of the stars made by the Czechoslovak astronomer Antonín Bečvář. Our aim was to link up to this method of work, while using a real game of chess. Later on, Chess Show was performed live five times, twice in a shortened version. The first Chess Show performance took place in Telč in 2007. To commemorate the centenary of John Cage’s birth in 2012, Chess Show was played at the Membra Disjecta for John Cage exhibition at the DOX gallery in Prague and at the Gallery of Fine Arts in Ostrava in an electronic version for four laptops and a video. The most recent live performance of Chess Show was in 2017 at the Ostrava Days contemporary music festival, with Reinhold Friedl as a soloist. The other version of Chess Show was created in the studio— Chess Show [4’34” version], in cooperation with Miroslav Beinhauer, a Czech piano virtuoso, as a guest.
“Does the Maestro not like music?” the piqued pianist asked, standing at their table in the enormous, empty hotel restaurant. “No, no, I don’t,” John Cage demurred (from Sean Bronzell’s essay Overlapping Legacies: Cage, Chess, Music (as we use them) , 2021).
And Richard Kostelanetz supplies: “On p. 218 of Camp’s Unfamiliar Quotations from 2000 B. C. to the Present is ‘One of the greatest sounds of them all … is utter, complete silence’ attributed to my uncle Andre K., credited to the New York Journal-American, a forgotten newspaper, 8 Feb. 1955, which I’d not known about before, though in fact around 1963 Andre gave me my first Cage schallplatten.”

Opening Performance Orchestra, Prague, September 2021

Richard Kostelanetz

Given how widely the man and his work were derided when I first heard about them, some sixty-plus years ago, we should be impressed how canonized they have become since.
How did this happen is a hidden history. Unlike Gertrude Stein, say, Cage didn’t produce a single popu¬lar work that made his name familiar to a larger audience. (In her case, it was The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas [1934].) Indeed, to the end of his life Cage produced work that would be widely considered unac¬ceptable. One audacious masterpiece from his last years were his Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard in 1988. Instead of a pseudo-academic presentation traditional to the venerated venue, Cage declaimed fragments that were written on invisible grids. I saw spectators walk out on them before he was finished. A second late radical move was the film One11 (1992) whose images were no more than shadows on a white screen for 90 minutes. (Even I walked out of this, the first time it was offered to me, only to regret that I did.) Nonetheless, by the time of his 100th birthday, in 2012, academics were sponsoring symposia about his work. By then, the routine dismissals had simply faded away.
When I first heard about Cage, he was respected, as well as deprecated, as an advocate in chance in art. Wide admiration for the recent paintings of Jackson Pollock contributed to this emphasis. Nonetheless, it became clear that chance in the creation of individual works was a late consideration, almost an after¬thought. Cage’s forte was the invention of original structures that functioned as constraints. Thus, say, a white field would have only shadows for its entire duration. How those shadows were made, where on the field they appeared, etc.—these details could be left chance.
Cage wanted his works to be misunderstood, often providing misleading clues (e. g., the emphasis upon chance), because he thought his art should remain “mysterious.” And for many years his works were, not because his procedures were obscure but mostly because they were so original and esthetically challenging. Nonetheless, by now his intentions are clear and mostly acceptable. More precisely, his art has survived, now nearly three decades after his death, precisely because it’s not obscure.
Though his admirers were forever discovering heavy themes in his work, especially if they lived in Europe, I’ve come to regard Cage as initially a light composer, descending more from Erik Satie, say, than Arnold Schoenberg. Dove Bradshaw recently told me that when Cage was asked to identify his favorite comic writer, he chose not a heavy comedian like Mark Twain or H. L. Mencken, say, but Peter de Vries (1910–1993), who wrote for slick magazines and Broadway. De Vries was comparatively a lightweight, at least on his surface.
When Opening Performance Orchestra invited me to write about Cage’s chess pieces, I realized that I hadn’t thought about them, not to mention my ignoring his enthusiasm for playing chess, all to my shame. So, reluctant in principle to do anything that others can do better, I recommended that Opening Performance Orchestra contact the writers whose texts follow.

The 64-minute piece uses fragments of Cage’s works as sound material, randomly re-arranged and com¬bined. Simultaneously with Chess Show, Reinhold Friedl will perform Cage‘s Song Books. In the manner of quodlibet, Chess Show’s strict structure will be confronted with an unpredictable selection of other works: various piano parts from Number Pieces, jumbled takes on selection from Song Books, maybe even Suite for Toy Piano and Satie’s Vexations.
Chess Show also features a visual component: the two elements, music and visuals, are mutually indepen¬dent, only sharing a 64-minute timeline divided into sixteen four-minute sections; the overall duration cor¬responds to the chessboard’s 64 squares and the I Ching’s 64 hexagrams. In individual sections, the music and sound samples, as well as their durations, beginnings, and ends, are determined by chance operations following the I Ching’s guidelines. Important operations were conducted using yarrow stalks, while other parameters, including time brackets, use a random number generator.
The visual component of Chess Show is based on a transcript of a 1970 game between chess masters Robert Fischer and Vasily Smyslov (Bird’s Opening). We see a commonplace black-and-white chessboard, under which, instead of chessmen, there is a layer of 22 black-and-white photographs with John Cage mo¬tifs. Individual moves activate different squares to show the pictorial layers underneath, rather than chess pieces. The sequence of moves is partially randomized. Apart from temporal correspondence, the visual component is independent of the soundtrack. In 64 minutes, 128 pictures emerge for varying amount of time (determined by randomly generated time brackets), reflecting the different amounts of deliberation required for individual chess moves. In the course of the game, initially clear-cut visual modifications cor¬responding to individual moves gradually give way to recurring glitches and full-scale changes.

(from the program booklet for Ostrava Days 2017)