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School of Music

Desert Music: Tangents Percussion Quartet Films “Living Room Music” in Little Sahara

The percussion group reflects on their experiences and growth in producing the music video

As one of the most innovative and revolutionary composers of the early 20th century, John Cage’s creative approach to music can be seen in his percussion piece “Living Room Music.” By using found objects to make music, like vases or books or newspapers instead of traditional instruments, Cage showed that music can be found anywhere, if you know where to look. BYU’s Tangents Percussion Quartet took this message to heart as they ventured out into the desert to make music with rocks, sticks and even bones in their own adaptation of Cage’s “Living Room Music.”

Darren Bastian, a percussion professor who founded the group in 2019, said that the idea to record John Cage’s “Living Room Music” came as a result of the pandemic restrictions. With some uncertainty whether they would be able to play and record the music on campus, Bastian said the group turned towards a more unconventional route.

“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to do ‘Living Room Music’ but do it outside,’” Bastian said. “ do something unconventional, when it's already an unconventional piece.” The quartet planned to use the objects found outside to make the music in order to invoke the sense that the world is a kind of outdoor living room.

As a result, Tangents recorded and filmed the music video for their own take on “Living Room Music” during a time when indoor performance was not an option. The video was filmed out in Little Sahara over the course of two days, after the group had recorded the music with June Audio, a local recording studio.

Tanner Johnson, a commercial music student, said that he enjoyed the process of recording the music for the video. “Being a part of a legitimate recording is something that really appealed to me,” he said.

Johnson added that he appreciated how creative and different this take on Cage’s piece is, saying that “choosing an entirely different setting and having a lot of different camera angles and putting those all together the video a bit more cinematic” than other renditions of “Living Room Music.”

The music video opens with a sweeping view of the sand dunes in Little Sahara, invoking a sense of open space—a space that is soon filled with percussion music. As the video progresses, the sounds of music rise out of ordinary objects found outdoors: logs, sticks, rocks and bones. This interpretation of “Living Room Music'' is meant to create a sense of connection with the world, even though COVID restrictions have been a cause of separation.

Robert Oldroyd, a member of the quartet, said that the experience of recording and playing the music was very rewarding. “There is a unique brotherhood and sisterhood here at BYU … There is a unity of purpose and heart here that I think is rare to find in a university,” he said. “Creating something new and unique in this environment with these elements of unity and purpose made this a very satisfying experience. I think it brought us closer, which may be one of the most important reasons we create music.”

Nathan Winters, a member of the group since 2019, added that the experience helped stretch him musically. “It pushed me in music taste it pushed me in terms of preparation,” Winters said. “It pushed me to understand where my craft comes from.”

The project was funded by a grant from the Lacycock Center, which allowed for the music to be recorded and filmed.

Bastian added his appreciation for the Laycock funding, without which the students would not have been able to have this experience. “It was nice to have the money to be able to use our creativity,” Bastian commented. “I really think it's important for students to have experiences like this of the classroom and creating something very involved in.”

The members of the quartet said that they hope those who watch the video come away with a sense of entrancement and appreciation for the unconventional take on Cage’s unusual piece.

“I hope that enjoy our unique interpretation,” said Oldroyd. “If are new to the piece, I hope that are curious and ask questions. In the search for answers may find similar works that interest and maybe will begin a rewarding journey of discovery.”