Pulse (1939), for six percussionists, was composed for John Cage's newly formed percussion ensemble. Its texture is generally sparser and more delicate than that of Cage's Third Construction. Its pace (in rapid 7/8) and instrumentation (three Korean dragon's
mouths, three woodblocks, three Chinese tom-toms, three drums, three rice bowls, three temple gongs, three cymbals, three gongs, three pipes, and three brake drums) give it a distinctly Oriental character.
The piece contains two simple principal motives. After one measure of
introduction the motive that dominates the A section is presented by the Korean dragon's mouths (which sound like soft wood blocks) and repeated by tom-toms and wood blocks.
The rhythmic character of the motive and its frequent repetition create a Baroque fugal quality --an assimilation of Eastern and Western musical elements that might have been the product of some great Oriental Bach. The B section is characterized by a steady eighth-note impulse accented on the first beat of every measure and bandied between the
resonant, metallic-sounding rice bowls and the Japanese temple gongs. The simple A-B-A-B is delineated by the clearly audible presence of two distinct motives. Following a pause at the end of the second B section, a coda begins with long tones in gongs and cymbals, to which is added the B motive played in syncopation and at different speeds. The composers on this recording explore different aspects of time and rhythm.
John Cage, Lou Harrison, and Henry Cowell view time linearly: pulse is established by a steady shower of eighth notes, against which subtle rhythmic quirks can be superimposed. Lukas Foss treats time dialectically and episodically, alternating and
contrasting the dreamlike state of unrelated rhythmic interactions with the reality of linearity, represented by repeated rhythmic patterns: Harvey Sollberger prefers the expressive capabilities of the recitative in contrast to the motoric regularity of a steady pulse that carries us from moment to moment with its inherent logic in the work of Cage and Harrison.
Reviews"An audiophile favorite originally recorded on New World Records, featuring compositions for percussion ensemble by John Cage, Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison, Lukas Foss, and Harvey Sollberger." - Stereophile