Search This Blog

27 April 2010

Something About Cage's Time

I alluded late last year, on the heels of our John Cage Symposium at Bard College, to an interesting talk given at one of the sessions by Bard's resident biologist and (more than) amateur watchsmith, Dwane Decker, entitled "Replicable Chance: Time as Structure in Aleatory Composition" (11/1/09, 10 a.m., Olin Hall).

The audience was modest, as was the case for virtually all of the Symposium sessions, but the response in this case was particularly enthusiastic. Of course, any lecture on the subject of "Cage and Time" piques the interest of any Cage enthusiast, and even the laziest among us showed up for Decker's early morning talk. But no one could have anticipated Decker's unique vantage point, which was to explore Cage's use of (and interest in) time through an in-depth look at his personal timepieces.

Decker's presentation has stayed with me for months -- perhaps as much for its intimacy as its originality -- and I'm very happy to say that he's agreed to let us link to a transcript of his complete presentation here. Well, not quite complete. What's *not* included here is his really elucidating closing demonstration: a screening of Cage's performance of Water Walk (courtesy of the ubiquitous 1960 episode of "I've Got a Secret"), while at the same time manipulating, as Cage may well have done, the two synchronized second hands of Cage's own A.R. and J.E. Meylan stopwatch, which we were able to witness via microscope projections to screen. The audience was, to say the least, enthralled.

In addition to Cage's watches -- both his A.R. and J.E. Meylan Swiss stopwatch and his workaday Accutron Spaceview from America's own Bulova Watch Company, both of which are covered in great detail in Decker's talk -- the John Cage Trust is home to two other well-known Cage timepieces:

The doubled-faced, dual-action clock he used whenever engaged in competitive chess matches at home, and

his doubles-as-a-doorstop, metal-encased Kodak Timer, reportedly used in several performances of his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra.

The Kodak Timer, of course, has been memorialized in Jack Mitchell's well known and quite marvelous photograph of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and "clock" (c.1968).

But while I'm on the subject of the John Cage at Bard College Symposium, let me share a slide show of some 90-odd images taken across the three days by the amazing photographer Donald Dietz.

The presenters, performers, and all-around essential participants, many of whom you'll recognize, were Katherine Adamov, James Bagwell, Bob Bielecki, David Bloom, Jo Brand, Frank Corliss, Dwane Decker, Kyle Gann, Kayo Iwama, Michael Ives, Rebeccah Johnson, Erica Kiesewetter, Laura Kuhn, Peter Laki, Tom Mark, Emy Martin, Julie Martin, Robert Martin, Blair McMillen, Rufus Muller, NEXUS (Bob Becker, Bill Cahn, Russell Hartenberger, Garry Kvistad), John Pruitt, Joan Retallack, Marina Rosenfeld, Sandra Skurvida, Jenni Sorkin, Richard Teitelbaum, and Jason Treuting. And, of course, the many, many incredible students from the Bard College Conservatory, Music Program, Graduate Vocal Arts Program, and Center for Curatorial Studies. And thank you to Brian Nozny for his beautiful arrangement of Cage's Chess Pieces, reprised here, and Leon Botstein for the sumptuous opening day lunch.

Laura Kuhn