Search This Blog

23 October 2009

Silence is Golden

Few events have generated as much press around John Cage as the tussle that arose between Peters Edition, Cage's music publisher, and the British composer and songwriter Mike Batt, in the wake of the now infamous track on the first CD, Classical Graffiti, by Batt's 8-piece crossover band, The Planets, which went straight to #1 on the UK classical music chart on the day of its release (February 2002), where it remained for 3 months.

As Wikipedia tells it, "Batt was sued for copyright infringement over the track entitled A One Minute Silence, which...was credited to 'Batt/Cage'. The publishers of Cage's music alleged that the credit invoked Cage's silent piece, 4'33", and that the Trust was entitled to receive royalties. An out of court settlement was reached, with Batt paying a six-figure sum to the John Cage Trust."

Years later, I was contacted by Lewis Hyde, masterful author of The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (Random House, 1983), who contemplated addressing this altercation in a forthcoming book, Common as Air: Revolution, Art & Ownership (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, fall 2011), using as his basis an essay by Colorado humorist Randy Cassingham, author of True Stella Awards: Honoring Real Cases of Greedy Opportunists, Frivolous Lawsuits, and the Law Run Amok (Penguin, 2002), entitled "Silence is Golden -- for Some".

Intrigued, I sent Mr. Hyde on to the beloved general manager of Peters Edition, Nicholas Riddle, in London. Click here for excerpts from their ongoing dialogue.

And, for added fun, while we're on the subject, here's a little video of Cage's 4'33", performed in Palm Desert, California, by none other than Bill Marx, son of Harpo Marx and a marvelous pianist. This clip is drawn from one of the many documentaries made by the California filmmaker, Joel Hochberg.

13 October 2009

Merce Cunningham

For this first of what will be many John Cage Trust blogs, I’d like to thank Merce Cunningham (1919-2009). Not for his beautiful work, which has delighted us for decades the world over, or for his curious, open disposition. Not even for the example he set and shared of how to continue one’s work, in the face adversity, and for standing up for those close to him, always, in life’s most difficult times.

The front door to the loft shared by John and Merce
©Mikel Rouse, 2009

No, I really want to take this space to simply thank Merce for his generosity in making himself, and his home, a welcome place for those of us left behind with John Cage’s death in 1992. I can’t count the number of gatherings that have taken place over the past 17 years at Merce’s loft. Those rather grand events – annual Thanksgiving dinners, birthday celebrations, and glorious Christmases -- but maybe just as much the more intimate ones, with just Merce and me, or Merce and me and Mikel, or Margarete or Jasper or Trevor or Ralph or Victoria or Charlie or Joe or Andy or David or Larry or Bill or Jeannie or Robert or Pepper or Joan. That list goes on and on and on.

He opened his home to endless business dinners, when he understood that his presence and loft would serve our ends, and sometimes he’d just humor us, letting us do something slightly offbeat, even at the end of a long workday. Like when he allowed us to invite the loveable gang known as So Percussion over to “play” the loft, using many of Cage’s most unusual percussion instruments still scattered about. We recorded that one (thank you, Paul Labarbera), so can share a bit of it with you here.

Merce and I were not particularly close at the time of John Cage’s death, but we quickly became something like affectionate soldiers in arms. He continued his work with my help, and I mine with his. In the shaky aftermath of Cage’s death, we together formed the John Cage Trust, and he, as pr
esident of its board of trustees, tirelessly served his life-long partner to his own dying day.

Merce Cunningham
©Mark Seliger, 2009

No one can replace Merce. But through his example, we continue, and happily so.

Please visit, which launches today with some modest wares: the complete schedule of events for the upcoming “John Cage at Bard College Symposium” (Oct. 30 – Nov. 1, 2009), and the playful “John Cage Folksonomy”, a starter list of some 6,000 names of John Cage’s friends & acquaintances, to which you’re invited to contribute.

Laura Kuhn