Bobby Previte Plays House

Bobby Previte ©Emily Martin
The John Cage Trust is situated at Bard College, 90 scenic miles north of New York City, straight up the Hudson River.  There are many reasons to enjoy the location: the rich intellectual life of Bard, to be sure, but also an abundance of nature, dramatic seasonal changes, year-round farmer's markets, and a surprisingly lively social scene.  And Rhinebeck, Kingston, and Hudson are just a stone's throw away!

In 2014, the John Cage Trust embarked on its first John Cage Evening, an invitational gathering at the Milan home of our gracious host, Susan Hendrickson. The events are invitational -- not to be exclusive, but the space is intimate and 40 or so guests make for just the right fit.  But, we change the guest list from year to year to keep conversations interesting -- those in the know about John Cage commingle with folks new to the fold.  Our first, on Sept. 19, 2014, brought together four individuals in advance of their weekend performance of Cage's works at Bard's Fisher Center for the Performing Arts: Adam Tendler, pianist, Joan Retallack, poet, Garry Kvistad, percussionist, and yours truly.  We had a lively conversation together on the subject of performing Cage, followed by amazing conversation, food, and drink.  

This year we celebrated the close of Reality Radio, our 24/7 audio surveillance project in collaboration with Acra's Wave Farm configured within one of Bard College's Conservatory of Music Percussion Studios, headed up by So Percussion.  But it also was the occasion to bring the drummer Bobby Previte into the John Cage Evening mix, a musician I'd heard much about but not yet met.

Bobby Previte ©Emily Martin
After a bit of conversation together (super interesting, and could have gone on longer!), Bobby played Susan's house, quite literally.  Moving from object to object, inside and out, we scampered after him as he unleashed the sonorous capabilities of walls, gas ranges, vases, ottomans, a swimming pools and even electrical kitchen appliances, these last played by guests, who Bobby ably conducted.  We hadn't announced what this year's entertainment would be, so that at the end, everyone expressed delight and amazement about what had transpired.

Laura Kuhn and Ralph Benko 
©Emily Martin
I think Cage would have been pleased, and you can have a listen here.  Most think that Cage didn't like improvisation, but closer to the truth was that he wanted any act of improvisation, like the act of composition, to serve as a means of discovery.  Bobby allowed that this was precisely what had occurred for him throughout the course of his amazing performance, and I think that Susan might never look at her beautiful surroundings in quite the same way again.  The evening was broadcast live over WGXC 90.7-FM, a wonderful partner here in the Hudson Valley; archived programs are available at  Pre-concert interviews with guests were conducted by Max Goldfarb and Galen Fisher-Hunter.  Thanks to all for making this year's event so special.  

Laura Kuhn

Happy Birthday, Merce!

A young Merce Cunningham, courtesy of Lawrence Voytek

Happy Birthday, Merce!

A Sweet Little Read

For those in love with those of the feline persuasion, you must get Alison Nastasi's new book from Chronicle Books. John Cage is in it (as are Skookum and Losa), but you'll also meet Maya Lin, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Gustav Klint, Henri Matisse, Brian Eno, Ai Weiwei, Jean Cocteau, Patti Smith, Edward Gorey, Frida Kahlo, Diego Giacometti, and many, many others. Each is captured in an image with a furry friend, which combines with a short bit of text, revealing something about the artist's life, work, and, well, relationship to cats. William S. Burroughs' entry closes with an intriguing quote, apparently his last journal entry, written in 1997:

There is no final enough of wisdom, experience -- any fucking thing. No Holy Grail. No Final Satori, no final solution. Just conflict. Only thing can resolve conflict is love, like I felt for Fletch and Ruski, Spooner and Calico.  Pure love. What I feel for my cats present and past. Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller what there is. LOVE.

Laura Kuhn

The Mushroom Man!

John Cage, Stony Point (c.1955)/Photo credit: David Gahr

Here's a little find!  A short interview with Laurette Reisman, former student of John Cage's Mushroom Identification class at the New School in 1962, talking about Cage, mushroom walks, and the conception of the New York Mycological Society.  This story was produced by Aasim Rasheed for National Public Radio's "Storycorps Digital Storytelling" program.  Reisman, interviewed by Rasheed, calls John Cage "The Mushroom Man."

Thanks to Rasheed for providing the interview in both recorded and transcribed form to the ever-growing archives of the John Cage Trust!

Laura Kuhn

John Cage at the New School (1950-1960)

John Cage was involved with academic courses at the New School for Social Research for ten years between 1950 and 1960.  From 1950 until 1956, he was invited to take part in academic discussions and to undertake performances of his works by fellow composer, critic, and faculty member, Henry Cowell.

*March 1950 - performed works for prepared piano at "Living Composers"
*November 1951 - guest speaker at "The Meaning of Modern Music"
*1952 - concert series that included works by Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, and Pierre Boulez
*October 1955 - "Five Sunday Evenings" series, in which Cage performed with Cowell, Elliott          Carter, and others
*1955 - Guest speaker at "Music and Musicians in Greenwich Village"

In 1956, Cage became a member of the faculty.  During his tenure, he taught five courses on the subjects of music and mycology.  His first course, "Composition" (the name changing to "Experimental Composition" in 1958), was continuous.

Course Outline:  (Experimental) Composition

Experimental music, a course in musical composition with technological, musicological, and philosophical aspects, open to those with or without previous training.  Whereas conventional theories of harmony, counterpoint, and musical form are based on the pitch and frequency components of sound, this course offers problems and solutions in the field of composition based on other components of sound: duration, timbre, amplitude, and morphology; the course also encourages inventiveness.

A full exposition of the contemporary musical scene in light of the work of Anton Webern, and present developments in music for magnetic tape (musique concrete: electronische musik).*

*New School Catalog Vol. 14 No. 1, 1956 Sept. 3 PP Vol. 17 No. 31 1960 April 4

In 1957, Cage introduced two new courses: Virgil Thomson: The Evolution of a Composer" and "Erik Satie: The Evolution of a Composer."  These one-term courses were taught in the summer and fall, respectively.

Course Outline:  Virgil Thomson: The Evolution of a Composer

All of Thomson's works are discussed and as many as possible performed, live or by recording in chronological order, the purpose of the course being to recreate the experience the composer himself had in his music writing.  Active participation on the part of class members who are pianists or singers is welcomed.  Toward the end of the course the composer himself will be present to discuss his current activities.*

*New School Catalog Vol. 14 No. 32 1957 April 8

Course Outline:  Erik Satie: The Evolution of a Composer

All of Satie's works are discussed and as many as possible performed, live or by recording in chronological order, the purpose of this course being to recreate the experience the composer himself had in his music writing.  Active participation on the part of class members who are pianists or singers is welcomed.*

*New School Catalog Vol. 15 No. 1 1957 Sept. 2

Robert Whitman, Allan Kaprow, and George Brecht
Photo credit: Fred W. McDarrah
In 1958, Cage introduced a two-semester course, "Advanced Composition," which he taught with Henry Cowell and Frank Wigglesworth.  The class was scheduled to continue into the fall of 1958 and spring of 1959, but was cancelled.

George Brecht (center seated) and Allan Kaprow (rear, near coat).
Photo credit: Harvey Gross
Course Outline:  Advanced Composition

Prerequisite: Three semesters of harmony and counterpoint, one of form and elementary, or the equivalent.  Admission by application to one of the instructors upon previous submission of one or more compositions.

Well-prepared students of serious composition are enabled to have their own works examined, reviewed, and discussed by experienced professional composers.  Students desiring to work in larger forms of all sorts -- symphonic, operatic, choral, music for the dance, chamber music, et al. -- are particularly welcome, although compositions in smaller forms are also accepted for examination.

While the composer-instructors consider the student's work with reference to its place in contemporary music, no one branch or school of modern music is emphasized rather than any other; any technique for handling contemporary material is studied if it has application to the student's problems.  It is not primarily a course in such techniques or in the analysis of the work of others, except insofar as this may be desirable for the student's better understanding of his own composition.*

*New School Catalog Vol. 16 No. 1 1958 PP Vol. 16 No. 19 1959 Jan. 5

Al Hansen giving instruction to Brecht and Kaprow
Photo credit: Harvey Gross
Cage's final course at the New School reflected his interest in mycology, "Mushroom Identification." Cage traces his interest in the subject to a trip to Stony Point in the early 1950s, where he realized he was "starved for nature" living in New York City.  Cage taught this class with Guy Nearing, a fellow co-founder of the New York Mycological Society.

Course Outline:  Mushroom Identification

Five field trips in the vicinity of New York City.  Preliminary meeting for information on transportation, etc., Monday, June 22, 8:20 p.m.

Mr. Cage is an amateur mycologist and honorary member, Gruppo Micological "G. Bresadola," Trent, Italy.*

*New School Catalog Vol. 19 No. 33 1959 April 20, Vol. 17 No. 1 1959 Sept. 7, Vol. 17 No. 31 1960 April 4

All information collated by Victoria Miguel from New School Bulletins and Catalogs, courtesy of Raymond Fogelman Library, N.S.U. June 2000

Laura Kuhn

Pure (John Cage) Whimsy from

For some pure John Cage whimsy from*, click here.

*Puremagnetik is the project of sound programmer Micah Frank.  It has functioned since 2006 as a creative sound design outlet, releasing "packs" inspired by all kinds of ongoing recording work.  Frank himself is an award-winning music and sound programmer.  He studied jazz and contemporary music at The New School in New York, afterwards spending years as a professional composer and sound designer.  Currently he is the lead developer at Puremagnetik, as well as the Sound Packs Manager at Ableton AG.  He currently lives in Berlin.

Laura Kuhn

4'33" The App!