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02 November 2009

About the John Cage Trust

It's remarkable to me that after 16 years in existence, I continue to receive inquiries as to what the John Cage Trust actually is and does.

The John Cage Trust is a not-for-profit organization founded shortly after Cage's death to support and nurture his legacy. It functions in two interrelated ways -- as an administrative entity and as a physical archive, which, for a time was situated in New York City, in the historic "archive building" on Greenwich St., then was somewhat nomadic after losing its lease in 2001 (shortly after 9/11), and then, in 2007, went into residency at Bard College.

While the work involved in managing Cage's life and works consumes nearly half of my time, our physical archives are of greater interest to most. Our holdings are various, and include extensive print libraries (our own and Cage's personal, including cookbooks, collectively some 1,800+ items), photographs (some 1,000+), media collections, both audio and video (commercial and archival), text manuscripts (relating to Cage's writings), and a permanent art collection comprising some 80 works by Cage that are lent to museums and galleries around the world. We also maintain a copy of the John Cage Music Manuscript Collection, which, in its original, is housed at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. There's also a lot of what we loosely call "ephemera" -- childhood Christmas ornaments, appointment books, sets of piano preparations, old passports, etc. -- that is still, in a sense, being discovered.

And as we discover things, they become available. An image of Cage's transistor radio, for example, was recently used as stage decors for a performance of Cage's Radio Music and Variations IV, produced by Robert Worby as part of London's "Late at Tate Britain" program.

And both Cage's wristwatch and stopwatch were used this past weekend within the John Cage at Bard College Symposium, wherein Dwane Decker, resident biologist and watchsmith, delivered a fascinating talk entitled "Replicable Chance: Time as Structure in Aleatory Composition".
And we work closely and variously with our sibling repositories and business concerns, including the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, which houses the John Cage Music Manuscript Collection, Northwestern University, the repository of Cage's Correspondence Collection, Wesleyan University, home to a goodly amount of Cage's original text manuscripts, and C.F. Peters/Peters Edition, whose staffs in New York, London, and Frankfurt work tirelessly to see that Cage's compositions stay in the light of day.

And, speaking of Peters, they're close to releasing a new publication: the first in a series of performable text editions, John Cage's Indeterminacy: New Aspect of Form in Instrumental and Electronic Music, beautifully edited by Eddie Kohler.

To celebrate, Marina Rosenfeld and I performed this work this past weekend at the John Cage at Bard College Symposium, with Marina performing a beautiful remix of what are now-historic LPs of Cage's music.

Visitors from around the world visit the John Cage Trust for the purpose of conducting research (or just to partake of amiable, like-minded conversation). But those geographically remote may be happy to know that much of our holdings will soon be available as integrated, fully searchable databases at Thanks here to our glorious websters Larry Larson, Didier Garcia, and Jack Freudenheim, and also to Andre Chaudron, whose incredible efforts with his own John Cage website, served early on (and continues to serve) as a tremendous resource to our own. In the near future, both sites will merge, remaining for a time accessible via both addresses. In the interim, do visit and help us to populate the John Cage Folksonomy, which is now up and running.

The John Cage Trust continually augments its holdings, sometimes quite by chance. We've become a repository for all manner of surprising things people have collected or discovered over the years, like the sizable amount of (very moldy) correspondence found under the floorboards of Cage's Stony Point home in the Gate Hill Co-Op, which includes letters from Peggy Guggenheim, George Brecht, Buckminster Fuller, and others. Or this wonderful recording of Cage playing his own Totem Ancestor at Ohio State University in a program he gave with Merce Cunningham in 1947.

Thanks to Karl Braun for this, who lovingly cared for this recording for over 60 years. Braun conducted an interview with both Cage and Cunningham in the setting as well, but, alas, that portion of the recording didn't really survive.

And in going through Merce Cunningham's effects recently, closing up the Manhattan loft he and Cage shared for some thirty years, we found this very sweet collage made by Xenia Cage for her long ex-husband, dated 25 June 1969.

This could go on and on, but for the moment, I'll stop. Check back later this week for a recap of our John Cage at Bard College Symposium, wherein I'll thank the many participants who made our first foray into our still-new academic environment a modest but resounding success.