Search This Blog

24 April 2011

"Lascia o Raddoppia" (Milan, 1959)

It's been rumored over the years that John Cage was a contestant specializing in mushroom identification on "Lascia o Raddoppia" ("Double or Nothing"), Italy's famous quiz show hosted by Mike Bongiorno. Cage was in Milan in the late 1950s as a guest of the composer Luciano Berio, who was then working at the Studio di Fonologia, RAI's experimental studio for audio research. Sylvano Bussotti, Umberto Eco, Bruno Maderna, Roberto Leydi, Marino Zuccheri, Peggy Guggenheim, and Berio's wife, Cathy Berberian, were all close to Cage during this period. According to unconfirmed rumors, due to the tight relation of some of these individuals to RAI, Cage not only garnered a much-coveted spot on the game show as a contestant, but he may have been provided with at least some of the answers to the questions about mushrooms he would be asked en route to winning the final 5 million Lire prize.

(Photo caption: "John Cage is mostly known for his love of 'concrete' music rather than mycology. Such music makes a symphony out of bells or the sound of a train passing by. For the 'daily noises' program, John Cage constructed an orchestra consisting of a piano, two radios, a blender, a watering can, a whistle, a gong, and a kettle.")

During his five appearances on the show, Cage entertained the audience with his unusual compositions. The audience was constantly reminded that he was a composer from Stony Point, New York, and Bongiorno often made fun of his strange musical efforts. No footage has survived, although various people over the years have claimed to have seen it.

There apparently is at least an audio tape in existence, however, since the final episode's dialogue between Cage and Bongiorno has been transcribed and published. This transcription, which appeared for the first time in the October 1975 issue of Gong, an Italian music magazine of the 1970s, includes both the mushroom Q & A as well as a funny closing exchange between game show host and contestant wherein Cage is encouraged to spend more time in Italy without his music.

According to Carlo Bertocci, its contributor (whose ironic title is "The Prophet and the Puppetmaster," referring to Cage and Bongiorno, respectively), the tape was handed to him a couple of years earlier by his friend, Mario Leone. Bertocci's transcription was later reprinted in a series of essays about Cage in an Italian publication entitled "John Cage. Dopo di me il silenzio" (Emme Edizioni, December 1978), and still later in "Sonora's John Cage" (Materiali Sonori, 1993), an Italian/English collection of articles celebrating the composer that was published shortly after his death. It was most recently republished in a new collection of essays simply titled "John Cage" (Edizioni Mudima, 2009).

Click here for an English translation of this dialogue, which features the final questions about mushrooms posed to Cage that led to his winning the final 5 million Lire prize. This prize, incidentally, which amounted to roughly $8,000, was used to purchase a piano for Cage's Stony Point home as well as a Volkswagen bus for the fledgling Merce Cunningham Dance Company's use while touring the United States.

Very few photos of Cage's appearances on "Lascia o Raddoppia" have survived, including this screenshot, likely captured from the still-missing video footage:

But several new images are now available, thanks to Turin's newspaper, La Stampa, which published brief, intermittent reports about the show (with photographic illustrations) and whose archives have recently become available online.

Like this one, a slightly different shot than the one above of Cage and Bongiorno perusing Cage's Water Walk set up (from La Stampa, February 6, 1959, Issue No. 32, page 6).

And this one of Cage at the microphone, with headphones on his ears (from La Stampa, Friday, February 13, 1959, No. 38, page 4):

And yet another, this one a close-up of Cage in the sound booth (from La Stampa, Friday, February 13, 1959, No. 38, page 6).

Lastly, a little-known photo of John Cage and Peggy Guggenheim, taken in Venice (from La Stampa, Thursday, February 19, 1959, No. 43, page 6).

La Stampa's newly-available archives provide access to not only these little-known images, but to concrete evidence of Cage's appearances on "Lascia o Raddoppia": the first taking place on Thursday, January 29, 1959, continuing weekly on Thursday nights throughout February, with the final episode taking place on Thursday, February 26, 1959. Click here for English translations of chronologically-ordered excerpts from the most significant of the La Stampa articles.

"Lascia o Raddioppia" (Milan, 1959) is the first of what I hope will be many "guest" blogs, this one the work of our remarkable Italian Cage foreign correspondent, Stefano Pocci. Thank you, Stefano, for your persistent research and a beautiful piece, and do forgive any transgressions that have occurred in the adaptation of your work for Kuhn's Blog.

Laura Kuhn