1. Edges 16:03
2. Six (3rd take) 3:03
3. Six For New Time 8:06
4. +- 7:01
5. Voice Piece For Soprano 0:17
6. Pendulum Music 5:55
7. Having Never Written A Note For Percussion 9:09
8. Six (4th take) 2:10
9. Burdocks 13:12
10. Four6 30:01
11. Piano Piece #13 (Carpenter's Piece) 3:58
12. Piece Enfantine 1:28
13. Treatise (page 183) 3:25

1. Edges 16:03
2. Six For New Time 8:06
3. Having Never Written A Note For Percussion 9:09
4. Six (3rd take) 3:03
5. +- 7:01
6. Voice Piece For Soprano 0:17
7. Piece Enfantine 1:28
8. Treatise (page 183) 3:25
9. Four6 30:01
10. Six (4th take) 3:02
11. Burdocks 13:12
12. Piano Piece #13 1:28
13. Pendulum Music 3:58

The fourth release on the SYR label was not designated to new material or studio improvisations, but instead a double-disc set of Sonic Youth's interpretations of various works by other composers. A truly ambitious project, it's one of their most diverse releases yet, featuring a selection of guest performers and some extremely interesting recordings -- from the seemingly random yet very calculated half-hour Cage piece "Four6" to Coco's shrill delivery of Yoko Ono's "Voice Piece For Soprano", from the torturous yet compelling "Pendulum Music" to the perplexing yet amusing 88-key destruction of "Piano Piece #13", the album offers a vast sample of Sonic Youth chasing us down musical paths we might not otherwise have ever visited.


For information on the history and evolution of the record itself, look no further than head project co-ordinator William Winant's extensive notes reproduced below, originally published in Bananafish #13. To discuss the live history a bit, we need to go back to April 1st, 1999. It was a special show at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC, Sonic Youth's first attempt to perform the SYR4 material live. To make this possible, SY brought Jim O'Rourke, William Winant, Takehisa Kosugi, and Wharton Tiers onstage to assist in the performance. The show was opened by three sonic solo events: the Thurston Moore/William Winant/Tom Surgal trio, the Kim Gordon/Ikue Mori/DJ Olive trio (who would go on to release SYR5), the Lee Ranaldo/Leah Singer duo, and UK noise terrorists Prick Decay. The set consisted of 5 pieces from the SYR4 record, including "Six For New Time" "+-" "Having Never Written a Note For Percussion" "Four6" & "Voice Piece For Soprano", the latter of which was sung by Kim (rather than Coco) in 3 parts, one scream between each piece. A program with scores for the pieces performed that night was handed out before the show. Following this gig, only "Having Never Written a Note For Percussion" would reappear in a set list that year, at the June 13th NYC show. Less than a month later, all of the band's gear was stolen on a brief west coast tour -- but that incident is covered in the write-ups for "A Thousand Leaves" and "NYC Ghosts & Flowers".

Following the "NYC Ghosts" tours in 2000, Sonic Youth decided to take the SYR4 material on an exclusive tour in Europe in June 2001, finally getting a chance to premiere the pieces they had not yet performed live, including "Burdocks" "Six" "Treatise" and even "Piano Piece #13", which was performed 4 times and yes, that means 4 innocent pianos had to die. The band also debuted some non-SYR4 material in the same vein as those compositions -- "Clapping Music" (another Steve Reich piece, comprised entirely of Steve and William Winant clapping their hands) and a one-time-only rendition of Konrad Boehmer's "Echelon", written specifically for Sonic Youth, and conducted live onstage by Konrad himself in Amsterdam. In addition to SYR4 material, "She Is Not Alone" "NYC Ghosts & Flowers" and "Side2Side" were performed at every show. Two shows on the 10-date tour were "rock gigs" -- ie, standard SY set lists. They did one festival set in Barcelona, opening with a lengthy improvised version of "She is Not Alone", centering around the full half-hour performance of "Four6", and finishing with "Side2Side". At this point, Jim O'Rourke was already an official member of the band, and he performed at every show -- also along for the ride was William Winant, and the sextet was joined by various guests in every city along the way. It was a truly unique, remarkable tour that unfortunately didn't extend to North America -- reportedly, some of the European crowds were less than enthused by what they were witnessing. Oh well...


The packaging is similar to the previous SYR releases, though this time english was the chosen language, and eggplant the chosen colour. The title "GOODBYE 20TH CENTURY" is buried beneath the hypnotic spiral patterns on the cover. The cardboard CD sleeve opens to reveal one disc in each side, with all of the song/performance credits printed on the inside.


Sonic Youth: Kim Gordon / Lee Ranaldo / Steve Shelley / Thurston Moore
with: William Winant / Jim O'Rourke / Takehisa Kosugi
Christian Wolff / Christian Marclay / Coco Hayley Gordon Moore / Wharton Tiers

Produced by Sonic Youth with William Winant and Jim O'Rourke
recorded and mixed March-August 1999, NYC
Recorded by: Wharton Tiers with Luc Suer
Mastered by Steve Fallone at Sterling Sound
Graphics: Chris Habib

[below I'll reproduce the basic notes on the compositions, including author, title, year, and initials of performers -- see scans for remaining info)

Christian Wolff
EDGES (1969)
CW / JO / KG / LR / SS / TK / TM / WW

John Cage
SIX (1991) 3rd take
JO / LR / SS / TK / TM / WW

Pauline Oliveros lyrics by Ione
JO / KG / LR / SS / TM / WW

Takehisa Kosugi
JO / KG / LR / SS / TK / TM / WW

Yoko Ono

Steve Reich
KG / LR / SS / TM

James Tenney
JO / KG / LR / SS / TK / TM / WW

John Cage
SIX (1991) 4th take
JO / LR / SS / TK / TM / WW

Christian Wolff
CM / CW / JO / KG / LR / SS / TK / TM / WW

John Cage
FOUR6 (1992)
JO / LR / SS / TK / TM / WW [KG / WT should also be there]

George Maciunas
KG / LR / SS / TM

Nicolas Slonimsky

Cornelius Cardew
TREATISE page 183 (1967)
JO / KG / LR / SS / TK / TM / WW


Notes on the genesis of SYR4:

I wasn't sure what the plan was for a long time other than that Goodbye 20th Century would be a collaboration that might involve Jim O'Rourke. We decided to do work by contemporary avante-garde composers that we could all learn together. I chose most of the pieces and had Lee Ranaldo contact some of the composers and collect scores from the various publishers.

I knew I'd have to find things that would work with these specific people and their instruments, either as a solo, quartet, quintet or sextet. I chose graphic scores with open instrumentation and varying degrees of indeterminacy written into them. Cardew's "Treatise", for example, is an open-ended piece that doesn't specify instruments. Plus, between myself, O'Rourke and the composers who were at the session–Takehisa Kosugi and Christian Wolff–we were able to explain how the compositions were supposed to work. We'd all talk about the pieces until it seemed like we all understood what we thought should happen. Then we'd record until everyone was satisfied that they had performed well.

We did two Cage pieces–"Four6" (which was actually written for me) and "Six (for percussion)". These pieces were part of a series written for various players and ensembles with similar notational schemes. We recorded two versions of "Four6", which is a 30 minute piece. One version was a quartet by Thurston, Kosugi, Lee and myself; the other one was Kim, Steve, O’Rourke and Wharton Tiers, who was also the recording engineer. We combined both versions in the final–you can hear one quartet in each speaker.

We also did Christian Wolff's "Edges", which uses a combination of normal and graphic notation, and a section of "Burdocks", a huge piece with 10 movements, with Christian Wolff on organ-synthesizer, some sort of keyboard thing. For Burdocks, we chose a movememt that involved several melodies and an accompanying rhythm that could be combined various ways. Kosugi, O'Rourke, Wolff, Lee and I played the melodic parts while Kim, Thurston and Steve did the rhythmic parts, along with Christian Marclay, who was adding turntable-electronics.

We considered doing "To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe, in Recognition of Their Suffering" by Pauline Oliveros because it's a prose score, the only requirement being that at least six players perform it. When discussing the project with Pauline, I asked if she could write something new specifically for us, which she did. "Six for New Time (for Sonic Youth)" was the one thing that was specifically written for the project.

Lee brought in "Piece Enfantine" by Nicolas Slonimsky. It's a solo piece for piano that I transcribed for marimba. We recorded the left-hand and right-hand piano parts on separate tracks. The Sonics mixed them together later, and the tape was processed further. We also did "Voice Piece for Soprano" by Yoko Ono, a ‘scream piece’, which was recorded by Coco, and a Kosugi piece called "+ —" (‘Plus/Minus’). It's a graphic score with different rows of plus signs, minus signs and vertical lines, which tell the players to rise, go lower, or make an open choice, respectively. The time frame is open, as is how to go from one symbol to the next. This was an older piece that Kosugi adapted specifically for us.

We did James Tenney's "Having Never Written a Note for Percussion" from his postcard series. He had all these compositions for solo instruments that were musical analogs of Zen koans, musical questions to ponder that would bring enlightenment. The one we did was originally for solo percussion, which I orchestrated for the band.

The Sonics also recorded Fluxus composer George Maciunas’ "Piano Piece #13 (Carpenter’s Piece, for Nam June Paik)", which entailed hammering all the keys on a piano down with nails (!), and an early piece of Steve Reich’s called "Pendulum Music", which involved setting up feedback loops with microphones hanging over amplifiers.

William Winant, Bananafish #13

August 1999


From FILTER magazine 2006 SY discography self-commentary:

"Our 1999 double album in which we attempted to pay homage to the many modernist composers we've admired---John Cage, Yoko Ono, James Tenney, Christian Wolff, Pauline Oliveros---a long list. A chance to stretch the expectations of what makes up a Sonic Youth album. [LR]"

Disc A is enhanced with a Quicktime movie of the recording of "Piano Piece #13", which literally depicts Sonic Youth taking turns hammering down the keys of a piano with nails until it no longer produces any sound.

Not only is the double-vinyl pressing sequenced differently (a necessity, with the half-hour Four6 in the middle of disc 2), but it also features the unedited version of the 4th take of "Six" -- though the CD liners cite the time for this track as 3'02, it's actually only 2'10, missing nearly a minute of music... this seems to more likely be a mastering error than something deliberate (it's not as if they were pushing the capacity limits of the disc). The time presented in the CD liner for "Piece Enfantine" is also off by nearly a minute, but I don't know whether the vinyl version is any longer. In addition to these time errors, two credits are left off of Four6 -- though they performed on it, Wharton Tiers and Kim Gordon's initials are not listed.

For more information on songs (including lyrics, who played what, when the songs were first and last performed, and other trivia), please visit the Song Database.



NOTES: 2x12" on black vinyl

NOTES: 2xCD release w/ enhanced video track.


  • Please write me w/ anything that's missing!

  • CD covers

    CD inside

    disc a

    disc b

    vinyl back

    vinyl back

    vinyl side A

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    vinyl side C

    vinyl side D