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20 May 2010

3 Noteworthy Things

Sometimes the workload here at the John Cage Trust is such that important things sort of flit by, almost unnoticed. Once they finally attraction proper attention, however, they simply won't leave my head until I manage to pass them along to others. Such is the case with three distinct items from the past week or so, which I'm sharing here, below, in no particular order of import.

First, in case anyone's missed it: Kyle Gann's latest book, No Such Thing As Silence: John Cage's 4'33", is now available from Yale University Press. This book is really, really marvelous, and should be quickly devoured by any and all Cage enthusiasts, novice and seasoned alike. (I particularly loved the materials on Cage and Muzak, which I found both charming and enlightening.) Kyle is a colleague here at Bard College, but we've been friends for years, dating back to the days when he was the heralded music critic for The Village Voice. Gann's latest effort is really impressive, as much for what it is as for what it isn't: this is a reasoned, concise, playful, and soundly comprehensive book about John Cage's 4'33", without critical obfuscation -- no side bars, no witty anecdotal meanderings, no cheeky offhand remarks. Just a very good read about a very important work.

Second, virtually everyone knows John Cage's Water Walk, as performed by the master himself on the 1960 American TV quiz show "I've Got a Secret." While it hasn't garnered as much press as, say, Halberstadt's 639-year unfolding of Cage's ASLSP, or the kerfuffle that ensued over Mike Batt's alleged appropriation of Cage's 4'33" for The Planets' first CD, "Classical Graffiti," it is definitely the work by Cage, at present and to date, with the greatest World Wide Web presence.

But what may have gone virtually unnoticed is a very nice article by the Toronto-based artist Laura Paolini on the subject of this performance within the context of what was arguably something of the best of prime-time American television in the early 1960s, entitled "John Cage's Secret". This is a really nice piece that digs a little deeper into Cage's forays into contemporary (dare I say pop) culture than most. It appeared in an interesting if little-known magazine emanating out of Montreal called Les Fleurs du Mal (specifically, Vol. 3, No., in an issue entitled "Secret"), which serves as a creative forum for emerging and professional artists. It's published only occasionally, with all of its content open to the public, so keep an eye out for the next edition.

Third, and last, and a bit of a surprise, is the lovely Reverend Colin Bossen, Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland, who recently gave a church worship service entitled "The Buddha Should be as Useful as a Can: Meditations on the Spirituality of John Cage" (Sunday, May 16, 2010, 11am-12noon). Not only did Reverend Bossen incorporate into his service readings from Cage's Anarchy and Lecture on Nothing, but Karin Tooley, church musician (and, interestingly, extensively engaged as a pianist for dancers), interpolated performances of Cage's Two Pieces for Piano, Ophelia, In A Landscape, and 4'33" as well. Reverend Bossen's sermon was so thoughtful, and his context for reflection so unusual by standard Cage measures, I can't resist sharing this with you, here, in transcript. Rumor has it that there'll be an mp3 audio version of this sermon available soon, accessed through the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland's website, so do check back.

Laura Kuhn