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05 October 2012

John Cage's Song Books

The first-ever complete recording of all of the Solos for Voices contained in John Cage's Song Books (1970) is now available, thanks to the incredible work of three individuals: Lore Lixenberg and Gregory Rose, vocalists, and Robert Worby, electronics.

Song Books is a collection of 90 Solos for Voice that Cage composed in 1970.  As a theme, he took a line from his diary: 'We connect Satie with Thoreau': Erik Satie being the iconoclastic French composer whom Cage greatly admired, and Henry David Thoreau being the American transcendentalist who lived alone in the woods on Walden Pond and wrote extensively about nature and his peculiarly American form of anarchy.

Any number of the Solos may be performed by any number of people, in any order, selected by chance if you like.  Songs and theatre and electronics mash up Fluxus-like food events, amplified board games, electroacoustic voices, 'animal heads', and intense feedback.  As Cage himself said of the work:

" consider the Song Books as a work of art is nearly impossible.  Who would dare?  It resembles a brothel, doesn't it?"

This beautiful 2CD digipack from Sub Rosa comes with a 24-page booklet that includes photos, excerpts from scores, and exclusive texts.  Fabulous, fabulous work, and a long overdue addition to John Cage recordings!

Laura Kuhn

08 September 2012

1992 WBAI John Cage Memorial Tribute

Five days after the death of John Cage, on Aug. 17, 1992, the NY-based composer, writer, and lecturer Raphael Mostel produced and hosted a two-hour tribute broadcast on NY's radio station, WBAI-FM.  

As Mr. Mostel describes it, only a few of the many, many friends and associates of John Cage could be invited:  

In the WBAI studio with me were artist William Anastasi (at the time co-artistic advisor to the Merce Cunningham Dance Company), composer Earle Brown, Don Gillespie (who worked with Cage for decades at C.F. Peters, Cage’s publisher), R.I.P. Hayman (composer and a founder of EAR Magazine), Mark Swed (a music critic who is probably more knowledgeable about Cage than almost anyone else alive), and Margaret Leng Tan (a pianist who worked with Cage intensively, especially on annotating his works for prepared piano).  Speaking by telephone sequentially (WBAI only had a single line) were: Christian Wolff, Pauline Oliveros, and David Tudor. The engineer and in-line producer for WBAI was Peter Schmideg, who was the regular host of the station’s weekly program "Soundscapes: Explorations in Radio Sound & Music."

To read Mr. Mostel's essay and hear the broadcast in their entirety, click here.  One of the things that didn't make it into his essay is how David Tudor reacted in the broadcast.  He was obviously overcome with emotion, especially with mention of Cage's relationship to Morton Feldman.  As Mostel later reflected, Tudor may at the time have been under the influence of alcohol or medication, or both, but he (Mostel) was (understandably) loathe to curtail his poignant reverie.

New Music Box is a multimedia publication from the American Music Center, part of New Music USA, dedicated to the music of American composers and improvisers and their champions.  It offers in-depth profiles, articles, and discussions, as well as up-to-the-minute industry news and commentary, a direct portal to its Internet radio station, Counterstream, and access to an online library of more than 57,000 works by more than 6,000 composers.  It is currently featuring a total of five pieces reflecting on John Cage, each falling under the heading of Cage = 100.  In addition to Mostel's contribution, which is titled Walking Along Paths the Outcome of Which I Didn't Know..., are Kurt Gottschalk's Cage and Zen, Perspectives from Two Recent Books (Kay Larson and Rob Haskins), Isaac Schankler's Tudor and the Performance Practice of Concert for Piano and Orchestra, Kevin James' Provenance and Process--100 Waltzes for John Cage, and Petr Kotik's As Influential as Wagner, as Interpretable as Mozart.  

John Cage Obituary on KFPA Radio, August 12, 1992, Charles Amirkhanian is also available in streaming audio format as part of the Other Minds Audio Archive.  

Photo: John Cage (Frankfurt am Main, 1987) ©Anatol Kotte

Laura Kuhn

04 September 2012

The Big Day of the Big Week

Happy 100th Birthday, John Cage!

And do we need a celebration?   We cannot avoid it, since each thing in life is continuously just that.
                                                ~John Cage 

It's the big day in the big week in the really big year for John Cage.  I want to take a moment before diving head first into this week's festivities here in New York to thank everyone the world over for their participation in what is proving to be an extraordinary international celebration. I want to thank John Cage, too, for more things than I can count.  What has kept me at the helm of the John Cage Trust for nearly 20 years is my interest in seeing what he'll do next.  What he does next, of course, being very much what we are all doing now.  

The John Cage Trust also celebrates today the launch of its long-awaited fully-searchable, integrated database of works at  Thank you to Larry Larson, our Webster Extraordinaire, and his talented team at Larson Associates, Jack Freudenheim and Didier Garcia. Who never, ever give up. And to Andre Chaudron as well, whose prescient served as our able starting point. 

We are also proud to announce the release of two other labors of love:

Jack Freudenheim's beautiful Prepared Piano App, with a dazzling user interface by Didier Garcia that makes use of Cage's original preparations.


The John Cage Trust's own Sonatas and Interludes 3LP Audiophile Box Set, the inspiration of Tony Creamer, a great friend to both John Cage and Merce Cunningham, which features the superb work of pianist, Nurit Tilles, engineer Andreas Meyer, design/production team of Naomi Yang and Donna Wingate, and artist Chad Kleitsch.  

I'm proud to be working with each and every one of you, near and far.  I really can't wait to see what we accomplish together in the next 100 years.

Photograph of John Cage ©Sophie Baker 

Laura Kuhn

08 July 2012

Gramophone's Top 10 Picks

The July issue of Gramophone Magazine focuses on the 2012 Proms, including a calendar of events that includes not one but two programs featuring works by John Cage: August 14 & 17.  The upcoming August issue (on newsstands Sept. 3, 2012) includes a nice piece by Philip Clark, inspired by his standing outside Cage's 18th St. apartment building in NYC and listening into the sounds that surrounded him. A web-only feature for this issue is James McCarthy's Top 10 John Cage recordings: "Ten Ways to Fall in Love with Cage."  Congratulations to Don Gillespie for grabbing the #9 spot with his video realization of Cage's 49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs (1977) (Mode Records, The Complete John Cage Edition, Volume 40, Mode 204, 2008).

Laura Kuhn

03 July 2012

Letters from Auckland

Leandra Augustin, Alsana Rahaman, and Judit Mathew
One of the great joys of working at the John Cage Trust is hearing from people from all around the world who are newly engaging with the work of John Cage.  The latest?  A spirited communication from Marcellin College in Auckland, New Zealand -- specifically the students of Room 19, a class of 29 8th-graders, under the happy tutelage of Barry Moffatt.  In the photo just above, they're holding their original "rock drawings," which were created simulating Cage's techniques for his "Ryoanji" drawings with a grid and 15 rocks whose positions were determined by chance operations.  Unlike Cage, however, they added their own little twist: a single highlighted rock, also selected by chance.

In addition to their "rock drawings," the students listened to recordings of Cage's music and watched films about his life (sending special thanks to Brian Brandt/Mode Records).  They also wrote mesostic poems using the 50% rule on the string JOHNCAGE.  The poems came neatly bound in a little book, and without exception are incredibly beautiful.  Here are two, selected at random:

        junk fOod makes
         you tHirsty
           eveN though
          you Could
              eAt differently
         but, Go out
          and Enjoy mushrooms!
(Judit Mathews Leandra Augustin)

                                              Jumbled sentences that i
                                 struggle tO understand - i begin to
                                             tHink that his thoughts are
                                                                            somewhere iN neverland, trapped in his
                                                                                    own enClosure.  struggling to
                                                                                         escApe reality, to some, his
                                                                     poems are just a Gag.  but
                                                                                          othErs find them not too bad.
                                                                                                       (Trisha Villafania)

(Transcribing mesostic poetry into Blogger is an exercise in near futility.  I assure you theirs were letter perfect, if mine haven't fared so well!)
They also wrote me letters, all 29 of them, sharing a bit about themselves, their experiences with their projects, and finishing up with a few words about their overall impressions of John Cage:

"I enjoy reading through his history. One thing I know about him that he would never give up of what people say about him. I am really thankful that we were learning about him." (Trizhel Amon)

"I found that John Cage's art was interesting and kind of hard. I hope to learn more about Cage's beautiful and strange art." (Joseph Kalavi)

"I think that John Cage is an interesting guy because of how he looks at the world. I want to read more of his mesostic writings." (Ivan Evangelista)

"I think Cage was a very creative man. But what he called music: I found that quite weird. It sounded as if someone was screaming in my ear. The only music I liked of his was the prepared piano. It sounded very nice. I also enjoyed his mesostic poems and the way he painted." (Sharon Peterson)

"I find John Cage's work very interesting and I agree with him that all sounds in the world are music." (Isaac Rebello)

"I think that John Cage was an interesting man whose music is difficult to understand." (Nikko Eichler)

"If someone came up to me and asked me who John Cage was and what I thought of him, I would say that he was a poet and musician of sorts, some might say a chip off the old block. But I think he was a brand new block, different from anything else." (Benjamin Urquhart)

"The music sounded awful and it displeased my ears.  If I were a bit older I think I might have liked it." (Ivan Harris)

"We learned that John Cage was a determined man, and kept doing what he liked even though people rejected him." (Mary Aguilar)

"My personal opinion of John Cage is that to say he was a free spirit wasn't enough, he's a pioneer in the way he thought about art, and created a new medium of art.  I might not be the biggest fan of Cage, but I respect him as a person, and as a star."  (Aidan Samasoni-Tukuitonga)


Barry Moffatt, their teacher, is an equally interesting fellow.  Here he is outside Vesuvio's in San Francisco, a favorite travel destination.

Dr. Moffatt holds a PhD in philosophy, with additional degrees in science and art history.  When asked why, with so eminent qualifications, he chooses to teach young children, he points out that for a time Wittgenstein did as well.  He tells me he is both a poet (his poems described by others as "abstract and obscure") and a visual artist (his work in this arena "better received than his poems"). He is also an avid collector of Cage's works, both music and writings, and of secondary literature on Cage.

Hasley Stephens, Gadesvy Andrades, Joelle Moriah Reid, and Edgar Varona

Thank you one and all* for sharing your wonderful work.

*Mary Aguilar, Trizhel Amon, Gadesvy Andrades, Leandra Augustin, Van Joseph Belinario, Seadon D'Silva, Nikko Eichler, Cesar Estoconing, Elijah Etuali, Kim Louis (Ivan) Evangelista, Steven (Jan) Gamo, Jenney Guo, Ivan Marsich Harris, Harlem Ironside, Gabriel Johnson, Joseph Kalavi, Liam Koloamatangi, Judit Mathew, Sinafoni Mikaele, Brandon Peters, Sharon Peterson, Alsana Rahaman, Isaac Rebello, Joelle Moriah Reid, Aidan-Paulenele Samasoni-Tukuitonga, Hasley Stephens, Benjamin Urquhart, Edgar Varona, and Trisha Villafania.

Laura Kuhn

29 June 2012

Empty Words Online!

For those of you unable to be present for our John Cage "Empty Words" sleepover event tomorrow night here at Bard College's Spiegeltent, we'll be doing a live broadcast via WGXC 90.7-FM!  If you're inclined to stay up with us, you can tune into the broadcast in Greene and Columbia counties, or via online webstream by opening (or simply click here)

or (or simply click here)

You can open either in iTunes or on a media player of choice.

Happy listening!

Laura Kuhn

04 April 2012

John Cage's "Empty Words" (1974)

Bard College, Spiegeltent
Saturday, June 30, 2012, 7 pm - Sunday, July 1, 2012, 8 am
Tickets: $55, inclusive

Bard College's Fisher Center, New Albion Records, and the John Cage Trust present JOHN CAGE'S EMPTY WORDS (1974), a 12-hour, overnight event during which we'll collectively experience a rare recorded performance by John Cage of his marathon text drawn from the Journals of Henry David Thoreau. Empty Words is one of Cage's most sustained and elaborate moves toward the "demilitarization" of language, in four parts: Part I omits sentences, Part II omits phrases, and Part III omits words. Part IV, which omits syllables, leaves us nothing but a virtual lullaby of letters and sounds.

The Overnight Program*:

7 pm Settling In/Meet and Greet
8:29 pm Part I
10:59 pm Intermission
11:29 pm Part II
1:59 am Intermission
2:29 am Part III
4:49 am Intermission
5:29 am Part IV

*A simple macrobiotic meal with be served at intervals throughout the night, to Cage's specifications. Dusk & Dawn Music provided by Josh Quillen of So Percussion, in a program of works scored for amplified plant materials, water, conch shells, and burning pine cones.

Please visit Bard College's website for complete details, giving special attention to "Before You Buy" and "What To Bring." Tickets to this event are extremely limited and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis only through the Fisher Center box office, (845) 758-7948.

Laura Kuhn

23 February 2012

Robert Ashley's "The Influence of John Cage" (2011)

I recently returned from Austria, where I attended the opening of a beautiful exhibition at Vienna's freiraum quartier21 International, MuseumsQuartier, curated by Jozef Cseres and Georg Weckwerth. MEMBRA DISJECTA FOR JOHN CAGE: Wanting to Say Something About John, one of the countless events taking place worldwide in celebration of Cage's Centennial Year, is an homage to the composer, featuring the work of some 60 diverse artists working in diverse media from around the world.

There were so many fantastic pieces comprising this show, it's impossible to do justice to them all. Happily, the website coverage via the link above is fairly comprehensive. But I want to give special mention here to a little-known Czech composer, Tomas Vtipil, whose latest work, Scattered Members (2012), was performed as part of the exhibition's opening events by Mr. Vtipil himself and Brno's celebrated Laska Opravdiva (a choir particularly renowned for its renditions of Janacek). The work is scored for ambulatory male choir and electronics, and is, in the end, an absolute celebration of the impossibility of singing in tune against a real-time remix of what's just been sung: three different anthems sung by three different groups of singers who walk amiably throughout the museum, captured all the while by Mr. Vtipil, sitting quietly at his computer. It was a beautiful, surprising, and heroic performance of a work that I think adds an interesting and vital dimension to any ongoing conversation about the nature (and viability) of harmony. I also think Cage himself would have enjoyed it immensely.

Mr. Vtipil has an extremely modest presence on the Web (and what's there is mostly in Czech), but you can view his profile on Facebook and you can order his latest recording (vinyl) here. Exciting stuff!

Another really memorable work in the exhibition is by one of New York's own: Robert Ashley. It's a letter really, parsed across eight double-spaced, typewritten pages, entitled simply The Influence of John Cage (2011). The curators elected to show this work in an unassuming, upstairs space, and had affixed its pages to a small glass wall, quite low to the ground. So that in order to view (and/or read) it, one had to sit on a small tufted pillow that had been placed squarely before it, on the floor.

I was very taken with this piece, for at least a dozen reasons, and thought about it often during my remaining days in Vienna. Upon my return to New York, I quickly wrote to Robert Ashley, asking if I might include it in a blog. He kindly agreed. What follows is his contribution to MEMBRA DISJECTA FOR JOHN CAGE: Wanting to Say Something About John, in its entirety. It appears here, as in the exhibition, entirely without frills.


The Influence of John Cage
Robert Ashley, 2011

It is reasonable to ask any composer of my generation how much influence John Cage had on his/her music, because, with Silence, Cage wrote, arguably, the most intelligent and influential book on music theory in the second half of the twentieth century and because, on the basis of his ideas and his personality, he became such a celebrity.

He became a celebrity for many important and admirable reasons. He became a celebrity because contemporary music had a political power in the nineteen-sixties that it has lost now, and he was its best-known composer. I don't think anybody is a celebrity now or will be a celebrity in the near future on the scale that Cage was a celebrity in his time.

And he was a celebrity because he and David Tudor brought to America ideas from Europe that were not available in any other form -- scores, readings, first-hand experience or gossip -- particularly ideas about serialism and the many proponents of serialism among European composers: Stockhausen, Berio, Boulez, Pousseur, Nono, Maderna, Nilsson and many others. These ideas were especially important to those of us who were unable to go to Europe and learn for ourselves.

Cage and Tudor traveled extensively giving duo-concerts and as musicians with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. And it appears that wherever he went Cage gave interviews to answer questions about "chance operations" as they applied both to music and to dance. Many of those interviews have been published.

He and Tudor brought news about what other composers in America were up to. (Driving home from a post-concert party with Cage I got a clear and detailed explanation of Christian Wolff's music a year or so before I met Christian or was able to see one of his scores.)

And Cage was a celebrity because of his famous intelligence and light-heartedness. He was a wonderful person to be with -- except, I should add, when you were dealing with him about the production of his music and things weren't going the way he wanted them to go. (I should put in the record that on four occasions when I was producing a Cage work for the ONCE Festival or in some other situation and things weren't going his way, he could be tenacious to the point of being personally obnoxious. It was only many years later that I came to appreciate this quality in him and to admire him for it. It was a lesson, in a way, and I have tried, since, to be that staunch when things are not going right for me. I have found it curious that I have never read mention of this part of Cage's personality in any of the writings about him. Maybe the writers were not producing the music and working with Cage in that capacity.)

But the answer to Cage's influence is difficult, because he was such a huge presence and it was assumed, especially by journalists, that everybody was a Cage protoge. (A few years ago I was asked by Alvin Lucier to speak about Lucier's music at Wesleyan University. Lucier was receiving some sort of special recognition. Alvin said to me, "Do you think you could give this speech without mentioning John Cage?")

John Cage and I became and remained good friends, especially in his later years when Mimi Johnson was managing his concert affairs and we were together a lot.

To go back for a moment to celebrity, I find it curious that younger composers now seem to think of Cage as simply one part of "the past." For them the past is bigger and includes more people. I think many young composers and fans of new music are interested now in the nineteen-sixties, and I encourage every person I speak to about the nineteen-sixties to read Silence, because it is one of the great theory books and its presentation is so original and convincing. But Zen Buddhism and mushrooms have been replaced in America's continuing fascination with "the other" by something else -- probably, now, power and money making. So Cage seems not as important now as he was a few years ago.

As much as I liked much of Cage's music -- most of it -- and as much as I admired Cage, I don't think of myself as seriously "influenced" by Cage. I didn't think that his ideas applied to what I thought I wanted to do. For instance, I think he never understood or was not sympathetic to "timelessness" -- the hard-to-explain root of the almost-impossible-to-explain "drone" concept as it was coming into practice then.

In connection with the idea of the "drone," in the late nineteen-sixties Cage began working on a series of pieces, sometimes going under different names, that started, I believe, with a piece called MusiCircus. The idea of MusiCircus was to gather together all of the musical performers or performing groups in the locale and have them play all at the same time, arranged next to each other, in a large performance space. From a distance or outside of the room it was, of course, a kind of drone, but I don't think that is the way Cage thought of it. I believe he thought of it -- in a way that I probably could not explain to his credit -- as having something to do with "chaos," which was much in the intellectual news at that time.

The problem with the MusiCircus piece, for me, was that from any place in the room the listener was always near enough to one of the performances that the performance heard was simply an old-fashioned kind of thing -- a rock band, a person playing Mozart on a harpsichord, a drum and bugle corps, a choir -- clearly doing well-known music in the midst of chaos. I heard many performances in different places and I never liked the piece.

I thought of Cage's music, the best of it, the chance music, as the most extreme version of, an extension of, time-line, linear music. In his idea of time-line, linear music he was concerned to make events in music unpredictable. I was concerned with non-eventfulness or with eventfulness that was clearly secondary to some other formula. Unpredictability was not part of the equation. (As a matter of fact, I don't think John much liked my early music, although he was complimentary about the later music for the ONCE Group. He probably thought of the early music as another version of serial music, which he had denounced as being too much in control of eventfulness. I think he misunderstood what I was doing. In those early pieces I was interested in "original" kinds of sound. I was interested in "sonority." This idea is difficult to explain and is not relevant here.)

And he probably would not have liked my graphic notation -- if he saw any of it -- however it differed from his in principle. Clearly Cage was the pioneer and champion of graphic notation. He was interested in making other kinds of music that could come from graphic notation. But I don't think he got the idea of the "drone" -- which is possible to diagram only in a special kind of graphic notation.

And I thought he was more interested in the graphic "elegance" of the score than in the notion that the score could be some sort of "puzzle" that would set the performers on an unknown path.

He certainly understood "conceptual" music. He certainly understood the implications and applications of electronic music.

He did pioneering work with speech, but his speech did not lead to a song of words. Cage made numerous pieces in which he performed with his voice. I have not heard all of them, but in those I heard he used his voice as an "instrument" in which the words are barely understandable, if understandable at all. (You might imagine that this practice was influential in the idea of "extended vocal techniques" or was part of the practice in "extended vocal techniques," which was important in the 1970s.)

In his work such as Indeterminacy and in the solo readings of the "Mesostics," we heard (or could not hear) story telling, but at its root it was still concerned with unpredictability on the time scale -- speaking too fast, speaking too slowly, speech buried in noise.

When I studied Cage's graphic notation, I always found in it simply another way to write linear, time-line music. I am not an expert in Cage's music, but I think that I am not wrong. Complete non-eventfulness or music that was not based in eventfulness, but in some other kind of formula, was not something he inherited in its inception. He was strangely "out of touch."

In all of the books I have read by Cage and about Cage I have never come upon a specifically explained example of "chance operations." (When the interviewer is so bold, Cage gracefully changes the subject.)

Once, I suggested to a close friend of Cage the possibility that there might be somewhere in Cage's effects a master notebook of "chance operations," a huge list of numbers or orders of numbers that could be applied to any parameter. Because it seemed sort of silly to me that every time Cage began a new piece he would work the I Ching or throw the dice again. (After 1984 he started using computer programs, but as far as I know the programs still produced "chance operations.") I was only partly kidding, saying that such a "master plan" would in no way change the fact of the composition being based on chance. The response was indignant outrage. "Chance operations" was a masterpiece of public relations in addition to being a good way to compose music. Everybody thought they understood chance operations. So we got a lot of pieces based on chance operations.

Cage was an amazing composer. Atlas Eclipticalis, Etudes Australes, the music for prepared pianos, the Concert for Piano and Orchestra, Winter Music, the Freeman Etudes and many others are giant music. Someday they will enter the general repertory. It is only too bad that they weren't done well or weren't done at all during Cage's life -- so that he could have heard them.

So, yes, I was influenced by Cage. We are all influenced by celebrity. It is like fashion: everybody does it and somebody gets the credit. The credit for new music in America in the nineteen-sixties goes to Cage. There is no denying that. His celebrity was enormous and powerful.

In 1968 I read a long and ugly interview with Stockhausen in a British music magazine in which Stockhausen accused Cage of "stealing" chance music from him. In Stockhausen's story he was working in his studio with Herr Dr. So-and-So on chance music; Cage visited the studio and got the idea and claimed it for his own. And that was followed by attacks on Cage in books by Boulez. This shows how celebrity is so envied and potentially hurtful. Stockhausen was nuts. Boulez is an opportunist. Cage must have been hurt by these attacks from his former friends, whom he had championed so much in the United States, when nobody had ever heard of them.

But no, I was not influenced by Cage in matters of musical composition, for reasons I have explained above. Nor were most of the composers whose work I admired -- for instance the composers who are represented in Music with Roots in the Aether. We were influenced by Cage as a composer who took his work "on the road," when nobody else would play it, and who submitted to countless interviews, in a good natured and humorous style, about his compositional technique. We were influenced by Cage as a courageous person and as a spokesperson for contemporary music.

Alas, Robert Ashley was not at the Vienna opening, but his son, Sam Ashley, was, since he's been an artist-in-residence at the MuseumsQuartier since Jan. 1. His work, Freedom From Happiness, score with instructions and eight-channel sound, was presented in an outdoor installation in the MQ's TONSPUR Passage. Happily, Sam will be back on native soil in time to appear in the upcoming production of Robert Ashley's CONCRETE (THE NEXT GENERATION) at Roulette, on Wednesday, April 25, 8 pm.

MEMBRA DISJECTA FOR JOHN CAGE: Wanting to Say Something About John will be on view in Vienna until May 6, 2012. Click here for a slideshow of images captured at the February 17, 2012, opening. The show will travel on to the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague (June-August 2012) and to the Galerie vytvarneho umeni in Ostrava (December 2012-March 2013).

Photo of John Cage (Frankfurt, 1986) ©Andreas Pohlmann

Laura Kuhn

16 February 2012

Radio Music - Impossible Beyond 2017?

In September 2012, Peter Urpeth will lead a concert at An Lanntair, Stornoway, to mark the centenary of the birth of John Cage (Sept. 5, 1912) and the 20th anniversary of his death (Aug. 12, 1992).

The program will include a performance of Cage's Radio Music (1956), a piece that is to be performed as a solo or ensemble for 1 to 8 performers, each at one radio. Also on the program will be Cage's Music for Piano 26-36 & 37-52 (1955), Music for Piano 69-84 (1960), 4'33" (1952), and Imaginary Landscape No. 5 (1952) all receiving their first performances in the Outer Hebrides.

In a recent blog, Peter Urpeth also spoke a bit about Cage's Radio Music as being a kind of endangered species in the UK:

"The poignancy of Radio Music is not simply in the fact that it celebrates the life and work of one of the most influential -- and to my mind interesting -- of musicians, but also because with the looming switch-off of the analogue radio signal in favour of the DAB type digital signal, it will be impossible to perform Cage's large oeuvre for radio (which includes Radio Music [1955] and Imaginary Landscape No. 4 [1951]) in the UK when the analogue signal is turned off for good in 2017.

Cage's Radio Music requires multiple, precise retunings of each radio during the performance according to a set list of frequencies (with some periods of silence), which do not change according to the geographical location of each specific performance and which therefore enables chance and random soundings to occur. In the Outer Hebrides we have access to very few radio stations even on the analogue signal, so a great deal of the performance here will consist of the white noise blur of the FM/AM radio spectrum. The simple fact is that the sequence of retunings cannot be achieved on the DB digital system. With digital radio you have all the available channels or none, and you cannot select an individual frequency to listen to if it is not part of a digital package.

A kind of performance could be achieved with different frequencies on the civil scanning systems of transport, emergency service, and CB radio signals, but the chance flirtations with popular music and speech radio in Cage's original will no longer be available.

It is my hunch that Cage might not have objected to this threat to his music, other than in the loss of a major domestic source of random noise. Digital is bringing us closer to silence, but a sterile kind of featureless silence. I'd go further and say that just as in Freud death is the real state of being and life a false interlude, so in Cage's music, noise longs for silence, and slowly Cage's music is returning to silence.

So, whilst it would be a beautiful act of futility to ask David Cameron to ensure the continuation of the analogue signal beyond 2017 for the sole purpose of enabling performances of Cage's music or as a resource for experimental musicians I think the gradual drift to silence of these pieces should be embraced."


Urpeth is inviting others to join him next September in Stornoway for a celebration of Cage's work, and especially Radio Music, which he sees as "a threatened form of noise and music."

He has no money to pay anyone, but he guarantees a great time (and perhaps accommodations). You can signal your interest by leaving your email in the comment box at his blog (link above). If there are more than eight who express interest, he will consider programming Cage's Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (March No. 2) (1951) for 12 radio performers as well.

Laura Kuhn

28 January 2012

On the Score of 4'33" (Original Version in Proportional Notation)

This is a talk* given by Irwin Kremen on the program 4'33" and Other Sounds Not Intended: A Tribute to John Cage at Central Park Summerstage, July 15, 1994, New York.

Good evening, everybody. My task is to tell you something about this score (Edition Peters, No. 6777a) of 4'33", the one John prepared in proportional notation that isn't discernible from any performance of the piece itself.

You can imagine how amazed I was 41 years ago when John Cage handed me the original manuscript of this score and wished me "Happy Birthday." I didn't have the presence of mind to ask David Tudor, who also was at that party and who had performed the "silent" piece at a concert the summer before, to do it again that night for us. Nor can I claim to have grasped the full import and the special innovativeness of this particular score in proportional notation. At that time, I understood that the silence of this "silent" piece was more of an idea than a possibility, because one can't ever get a noiseless situation, a soundless silence, and not certainly in the presence of an audience. Even in a soundproof chamber a person may still hear something -- the heart beating or the ears ringing or the gut rumbling -- so that silence is, if anything, soundful. A performance of 4'33" is far from empty acoustically. It must yield a flow of sound if one but listens. And this, by dint of chance, will differ widely from performance to performance.

That seemed to me to be Cageian music at its ideal, neither intentionally composed nor rushing climactically to ends and goals, but sounds just happening in and of themselves, each having its own value, free of hierarchy -- in short, a democracy of sound.

This much was apparent to me back in the '50s. But what I failed to grasp then and realized only later, was the radicalness of the score that John had presented me and what I now consider to be its larger significance. I have in mind Cage's simple and elegant treatment of time in this score. It departs significantly from traditional practice. So far as I know, nothing like it had been done before.

Everyone here has some idea as to what a page of conventional music looks like. In it, timing will be given by the different kinds of notes, the time signature, the designated measures, and the words that roughly cue tempi. Taken together, these devices can represent relative duration, not exact duration. This score of 4'33" does away with all of that by setting time equal to space -- not the broken space of notes on staves -- to a given amount of time. John did this with a calibrating instruction on the otherwise blank first page of the score proper; and this space-by-time instruction, as shown below, reads:

"1 page = 7 inches = 56 seconds."

Musical time is thereby rendered specific and exact. The First Movement, as shown below,

illustrates how this is applied. The First Movement consists of the space between those two vertical lines. On the actual score, that space is 3 3/4 inches wide and thus equals exactly 30 seconds, the number cited at the bottom of the second vertical line. It's simplicity itself.

What I've shown you amounts, then, to a major change. In this score, John made exact, rather than relative, duration, the only musical characteristic. In effect, real time is here the fundamental dimension of music, its very ground. And where time is primary, change, process itself, defines the nature of things. That aptly describes the silent piece -- an unfixed flux of sound through time, a flux from performance to performance.

Another aspect of this First Movement worth noting is its almost total blankness, which characterizes the two remaining movements as well. This blankness, while it appears to be nothing, is yet something: it blots out previous practice. Gone are the staves and all that was borne upon them -- keys, quarter and half notes, even measures -- as John situates music anew in the flux of sound that is time itself. New musical notations are free to follow wherever imagination leads.

The last time I spoke with John about this score -- it was in Zurich in 1991 -- his face lit up with his inimitable smile, and he said, "Krem, all the notes are there." I took that to mean in a virtual sense, for how otherwise could they be there when patently they weren't! Thus, at any performance of 4'33", as virtual notes they would underscore in effect whatever chance yields up by way of sound. Conceived as such, it's not unlike the virtual image of physical optics: in the microscope and telescope, virtual images and foci are held to occur at ideal points where no tangible part of the instrument is located.

You now have my view of the score that John gave me.

*This text (©1994 Irwin Kremen) has been altered slightly for presentation in written form. Furthermore, for greater clarity, the penultimate paragraph has been somewhat revised.

Photos: ©1979 Jon Kral

Laura Kuhn

11 January 2012

Things Not Seen Before: A Tribute to John Cage

Things Not Seen Before: A Tribute to John Cage, curated by Jade Dellinger. Tempus Projects: Saturday, Jan. 14 (opening reception) - Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012.

I am not interested in the names of movements but rather in seeing and making things not seen before.
-- John Cage

This latest exhibition by Tampa's own Jade Dellinger premieres several vintage original artworks by John Cage, including a Strings (1979) monotype, unique trial proof lithographs from his Mushroom Book (1972; in collaboration with Lois Long), and select mesostic pages from his Empty Words (1974).

Site-specific artworks by prominent local artists Joe Griffith and Theo Wujcik will also be included, along with Cage-related or -inspired video, sculptural objects, drawings, and scores by such Fluxus pioneers as Nam June Paik, Philip Corner, Giuseppe Chiari, and Milan Knizak. Numerous other Cage friends, collaborators, and acquaintances will also be variously represented, including Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, The Art Guys, Christina Kubisch, Stephen Vitiello, Andrew Deutsch, Keith Edmier, Emil Schult (Kraftwerk), Roberta Friedman, Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth), and Christian Marclay.

As Dellinger describes it, the hang will be as unusual as what is hung:

The art works will be positioned on the gallery walls by utilizing John Cage's own (rather unorthodox) chance operations-based installation method, and, as several of the works on paper serve a dual-function as 'graphic scores,' there remains the potential for musical interpretation of the artworks on exhibit....As his own practice made abundantly clear, I believe John Cage would have appreciated our modest tribute and this potential for 'things not heard before' too.

Jade Dellinger* is an interesting fellow. He describes himself as an independent curator, but he collaborates most regularly these days with the Contemporary Art Museum at the University of South Florida and the Tampa Museum of Art. In fact, running somewhat concurrently with his Things Not Seen Before: A Tribute to John Cage at Tempus Projects is yet another noteworthy exhibition, this one at the Tampa Museum of Art, entitled John Cage's 33 1/3 - Performed by Audience. For this rare performance of 1969 Cage's participatory installation piece (scored for audience of participants, 12 turntables, 12 stereo amplifiers, 12 pairs of speakers, and any 300 records), Dellinger invited various artists to provide their "Top 10" LP lists for inclusion. Early on, Pauline Oliveros, Yoko Ono, Richie Ramone, and Irwin Chusid submitted lists. Oliveros's included the likes of Tony Bennett, Willie Nelson, and Glenn Gould, while Ono's enumerated only Ono, John Lennon, Lennon/Ono, and Sean Ono Lennon. Ramone's list included Peggy Lee, David Bowie, and the soundtrack from Saturday Night Fever, while Irwin Chusid's sported Jandek (anything by), Harry Partch, Nelson Riddle, and the Sex Pistols. Other guest curators for this exhibition, which runs January 28 through May 6, 2012, include David Byrne, Iggy Pop, John Baldessari, and Jim Rosenquist.

Should be fun, no?

Dellinger is also a discerning collector. His most recent acquisition is a pair of "Artist Conks," which is what mycologically savvy folks have nicknamed the common tree bracket fungus otherwise known as the Ganoderma applanatum. The moniker is apt, because one of the properties of this particular fungus is that its pore surface accepts and preserves whatever is etched into the surface.

As you can see, Dellinger's artifacts have tremendous historical significance, being signed and dated by original members of the New York Mycological Society, which, as most know, Cage co-founded with Guy Nearing and others in 1962. The one dated Memorial Day 1962 is from their inaugural mycological jaunt and is signed by each of the founding members, including Cage, Lois Long, Dick & Allison Higgins, and Nearing.

Talk about longevity, no?

The other is headed "Londonderry, Vermont", and memorializes what was for many years the favored location of the NYMS's annual Chanterelle Weekend. Thanks to Paul Sadowski for this invaluable information, by the way. Paul is a long-time member and now Secretary of the New York Mycological Society (and, incidentally, for nearly 20 years John Cage's stalwart music copyist/engraver). Paul has kindly provided access to the 2007 Winter issue of the NYMS Newsletter here, which includes Cage's marvelous 1964 letter to the NYMS members-at-large concerning what was apparently organizational strife at the time.

The back story on this is kind of sweet. These Artist Conks were in the private collection of a musician who lives in New Jersey. He was raising money to fund a record he was producing and had listed them for auction on an online site. Dellinger saw them, surmised their historic value, and quickly offered him more than his reserve to secure them in advance. Dellinger said that the musician seemed pleased that his mushrooms would be included in exhibitions and shared with a larger public. He'd had them stored away in a closet for years and didn't realize their import -- only
that they were old, unusual, and apparently in Cage's hand.

These Artist Conks fall into the never-too-old-to-learn-new-things category for me. Sharing them with my assistant, who in turn shared them with her parents, Robert and Katherine Martin (he, incidentally, the Director of the Conservatory of Music here at Bard College), we were both astonished to learn that she had some in her family as well!

This little guy (left) was etched by Bob into a mushroom he'd found during a trip with Catherine in 1964 to Richmond, New Hampshire, where her parents lived. It was a courtship gesture, as he recalls, and it sports the first few notes of the Prelude of the Second Suite for Unaccompanied Cello by J.S. Bach, which he was studying at the time.

*Dellinger has other claims to fame. He has co-authored several interesting books, including Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! (2003), and he's the great grandson of Edd J. Rousch (1893-1988), a major league baseball player (mostly center field) who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. Rousch finished his 18-year career with a .323 lifetime average, 268 stolen basses, and 182 triples. Further, he never struck out more than 25 times in a season, and he had 30 inside-the-park home runs.

Laura Kuhn