Search This Blog

22 October 2011

Mondays with Merce (Episode 015)

Mondays with Merce (Episode 015) - The Prepared Mind: John Cage and David Tudor

These programs -- the glorious work of Nancy Dalva and the Cunningham Dance Foundation -- are always a joy, but this one particularly so for its inclusion of new archival film and photography of John Cage and David Tudor. Recent interviews with Christian Wolff and Gordon Mumma provide a beautiful, authoritative backbone, and highlights include a rare clip of Cage performing his infamous 4'33" in Harvard Square (1983) as well as new footage of Cunningham's RainForest (1968, with Tudor's eponymous score), filmed by Mondays with Merce at Moscow's Mossovet Theater in June 2011 under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State and the Chekhov Festival.

Laura Kuhn

05 October 2011

Any Resemblance is Purely Coincidental?

Ring any (Water Walk) bells?

A Memory Sidebar: Discovering yet again that some great idea I had was thought of by John Cage some 50 years before, I once asked Merce Cunningham whether he thought Cage wouldn't always be one step ahead of us. He smiled and asked in reply whether I was asking if John Cage would ever be fully assimilated.

He thought about this for a moment and shook his head no. Not in your lifetime, he said.

Laura Kuhn

26 September 2011

Lou Harrison & John Cage at Bard College

Lou Harrison (1917-2003) and John Cage (1912-1992) will be celebrated this season at Bard College's Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, courtesy of New Albion Records, with concerts on Oct. 15 (Harrison) and Nov. 11 & 12 (Cage). Featured will be two rarely performed works by both: Harrison's La Koro Sutro (1972) and Cage's James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet (1982).

La Koro Sutro is one of Harrison's most lavish and optimistic works, scored for 100-voice chorus, American Gamelan, harp, and pump organ. The title reflects the composer's long-time advocacy of the artificial "world language" known as Esperanto, being an Esperanto translation of the 'Heart Sutra,' the essence of the Perfect Wisdom Scriptures belonging to Mahayana Buddhism.

Harrison grew up in the culturally diverse San Francisco Bay Area, where he was exposed to Cantonese opera, Gregorian chant, and the music of both Spanish and Mexican cultures. His music avoids for the most part the traditional trappings of Western functional harmony, substituting with gorgeous melodies, unexpected rhythms, and a flow of unusual tone colors.

With regard to matters of overall style and choice of instruments, in La Koro Sutro as elsewhere, Leta E. Miller sums it up nicely by noting that

"When Lou Harrison couldn't find the sound he imagined within the Western orchestra, he looked elsewhere for inspiration -- to other cultures (Korea, Indonesia, Mexico), other sound sources (flower pots, brake drums, oxygen tanks), or other disciplines (dance, drama, literature). And if he still couldn't find it, he made it. ... He delights in combining disparate styles into untried syntheses; for instance, writing for Chinese instruments tuned in Just Intonation; composing concerti for Western instruments accompanied by Indonesian ensembles; using Esperanto for Buddhist tests; or requiring home made instruments to join the standard symphony orchestra." (from Lou Harrison: Composer a World, with Fredric Lieberman, Oxford University Press, 1998)
Performers for the Harrison program -- which will include his Solo to Anthony Cirone (1972) and Suite for Violin and American Gamelan (a collaboration with Richard Dee, 1973) -- will be the Riverside Choral Society, American Gamelan (William Winant, Ches Smith, Ben Paysen, Shayna Dunkelman), Jacqueline Kerrod, and Krista Bennion Feeney, joined by Bard College Conservatory of Music students, all conducted by Patrick Gardner, long-time director of the Riverside Choral Society.
"New Albion is honored to be a spoke in the wheel of friends, composers, musicians, conductors, labels, publishers, artists, and creative individuals who have been inspired by the deep spirituality and indomitable melodic line Lou offered the world. He is held close to many hearts, a hero in life and art, a courageous iconoclast, a person whose motto was his role on the earth: to cherish, conserve, consider, create." -- Foster and Tricia Reed, New Albion Records
New Albion Records was founded in San Francisco in 1984, dedicated to the exploration of new music. To date its catalog numbers some 138 releases (with many works of Harrison and Cage among them), but in recent years its activity has moved from recordings to concerts. With its relocation to Tivoli in 2007, very near to Bard College, New Albion now greatly enlivens the cultural life of this part of the Hudson Valley. These upcoming performances mark their fourth and fifth events collaborative with and for Bard College's Fisher Center, respectively.

John Cage's James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet (1982) began life as a radio on a commission from the composer's long-time friend, Klaus Schoning, and Cologne's WDR. Working on the principles of collage, Cage brings together a cast of 14 unlikely characters, some near and dear to his heart -- the title characters, along with Vocoder, Mao Tse Tung (as a child), Henry David Thoreau, Rrose Selavy, Thorstein Veblen, Buckminster Fuller, Robert Rauschenberg, Jonathan Albert, Oppian, Brigham Young, and a Narrator, orchestrator of them all -- who are made to speak together, their dialogue comprised of literal quotations, freely adapted historical materials, and lines that Cage has simply made up.

What is modern is surely collage, Cage once said, referring both to the art of juxtaposition itself and to the interactivity heard here between the living and the dead. Alphabet demonstrates a remarkably democratic intermingling of perspectives, an unmitigated humor, and an unmistakable irreverence for the particulars of history.

Performers for this production of Alphabet, a re-staging of the John Cage Trust's original theatrical realization seen in venues around the world throughout the 2001-2002 season, include John Kelly (Narrator), Mikel Rouse (James Joyce), who also constructed the multifaceted sound score from Cage's incomplete manuscripts, Joan Retallack (Buckminster Fuller), Richard Teitelbaum (Robert Rauschenberg), Trevor Carlson (Brigham Young), and others. Merce Cunningham and Jasper Johns are heard as aural spectors (on tape) in the roles of Erik Satie and Rrose Selavy, respectively, created for the original production.

Lou Harrison and John Cage were very good friends for a very long time. This is a little-known item held in the archives of the John Cage Trust, framed and hung very near to Laura Kuhn's hideously cluttered desk.

Laura Kuhn

Playing Duchamp

Laura Kuhn

07 September 2011

John Cage: On & Off the Air!

John Cage's interest in radio began in childhood with original broadcasts created on behalf of his Boy Scouts of America troop and culminated, the year before his death, with his Europera 5 (1991), one of three mixed-media works created for the operatic stage. John Cage: On & Off the Air! -- a touring program under development by the John Cage Trust that will premiere at Bard College's Fisher Center for the Performing Arts in Fall 2012-- means to celebrate this engagement with an ever-changing program of works wrapped around a newly-staged revival of Cage's peripatetic The City Wears a Slouch Hat (CBS Radio Workshop, 1942). Based on a play by Kenneth Patchen, this new staging will feature a new film of light and shadows by Mikel Rouse.

Uniquely, the four elements comprising this revival -- music, sound effects, readers/actors, and film -- will be brought together variously from venue to venue, depending on local resources and talent. Other works on the program will include such of Cage's works as Imaginary Landscape No. 1 (1939), Radio Music (1956), Credo in US (1942), Water Music (1952), 27'10.554 for a Percussionist (1956), Water Walk (1959), Speech (1955), and Rocks (1986), among others.

In conjunction with this newly-created program and the staggering number of events in the works worldwide that mean to celebrate John Cage's 2012 Centennial, free103point9 and the John Cage Trust are pleased to announce 120 Hours for John Cage, an open call for proposals involving Cage's compositions with, for, and about radio. Selected proposals will be broadcast on free103point9's FM radio station, WGXC 90.7 FM in upstate New York, and streamed online throughout a month-long program (120 hours!) scheduled for September 2012.

free103point9 is a New York State-based nonprofit arts organization establishing and cultivating the genre of transmission arts by promoting artists and works informed by the intentional use of space -- often the airwaves. Their major programs include the Transmission Art Archive, an in-progress resource featuring artists, works, exhibitions, and events that define the genre and place it in historical context, and WGXC 90.7 FM: Hands-on Radio, a creative community FM radio station serving Greene and Columbia counties in upstate New York.

The proposal categories are as follows:

1. Recordings of a specific Cage radio composition (old or new)
2. Live performances of a specific Cage radio composition (remote or on-site)
3. Original works in homage or inspired by Cage's radio compositions

The submission deadline is March 1, 2012. For more information, please visit If you're uncertain about the extent of Cage's works for, with, and about radio, or if you'd simply like to discuss possible project proposals, feel free to contact Laura Kuhn, Director of the John Cage Trust.

Key to the liveliness of both WGXC 90.7 FM and free103point9 is Galen Joseph-Hunter, editor of the recently published Transmission Arts: Artists and Airwaves (PAJ Publications, 2011), which features 150 artists notable for their sonic, visual, and live works spanning early radio experiments of the 1880s to the present day. Dealing with performance, composition, installation, broadcast, public works, and interactive network projects, it places transmission arts in historical context and lays the groundwork for the definition of a new art genre.

You can join free103point9, PAJ Publications, and the Electronic Music Foundation in celebrating this important release at the Brooklyn Book Celebration at the Issue Project Room on Oct. 18, 2011, 7 pm. Featured performers will include Todd Merrell, Kabir Carter, Terry Nauheim, Lazaro Valiente, Joel Chadabe, and others. Admission is free!

On Saturday, September 3, Galen Joseph-Hunter and Laura Kuhn engaged in a spirited, hour-long public conversation about the history and current activities of the John Cage Trust, some of the 2012 events in the worldwide pipeline, and their upcoming work together via WGXC 90.7 FM. Have a listen here!

Laura Kuhn

Photo credits: John Cage's Airborne Radio © Emily Martin, John Cage, Listening © James Klosty

06 September 2011

Music to Our Ears!

As everyone knows, percussion was near and dear to John Cage's heart. So, I'm especially proud to announce that Bard College, home to the John Cage Trust, has instituted a brand new percussion program within The Bard College Conservatory of Music. The John Cage Trust Scholarship -- the first of what we hope will be many to come -- was awarded to incoming percussion student, Zihan Yi.

Congratulations, Zihan!

The resident ensemble is none other than So Percussion. Yes, you read it right! Josh Quillen, Jason Treuting, Adam Sliwinski, and Eric Beach (from left to right above) have officially joined the Conservatory's undergraduate-only percussion faculty, along with their stellar, non-resident colleagues Greg Zuber, Daniel Druckman, and Jonathan Haas.

So Percussion is up to so many things so much of the time, it's virtually impossible to properly tout them here. They recently wrapped up their annual So Percussion Summer Institute (SoSI) at Princeton University, where special guests, in ad
dition to Princeton faculty composers Steven Mackey and Paul Lansky, included Matmos, Dan Deacon, guitarist Grey McMurray, and the composer Cenk Ergun (whose website I particularly enjoy).

And I know of at least seven So Percussion concerts in the upcoming season in which Cage's music will be performed: Bard College (Sept. 18), Stanford University (Oct. 26), U.C. Davis (Oct. 29, 30), Boston's Longy School (Feb. 9), Toronto's Royal Conservatory (March 2), the University of Texas at Austin (March 7, 8), and Carnegie's Zankel Hall (March 26). See So Percussion's website for complete details.

This seems a perfect opportunity to also tout Budapest's Amadinda Percussion Group, an ensemble of four Hungarian musicians -- Zoltan Racz, Zoltan Vacz, Aurel Holo, and Karoly Bojtos, all graduates of the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music -- who came together in 1984 to present masterpieces of percussion music to Hungarian audiences and to stimulate the creation of new works by composers internationally. Considered one of the most original and versatile percussion ensembles in the world, Amadinda Percussion Group has to date produced no less than six compilation CDs featuring nearly* every known John Cage percussion work.

Here's the impressive line-up of recordings, with associated images and audio clips provided courtesy of Amadinda:

Volume 1 (1935-1942): Quartet (1935), Imaginary Landscape No. 1 (1939), Second Construction (1940), Living Room Music (1940), Double Music (Cage-Harrison, 1941)

Volume 2 (1941-1950): Third Construction (1941), Credo in US (1942), Imaginary Landscape No. 3 (1942) , Imaginary Landscape No. 2 (1942), The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs (1942), Amores (1943), She is Asleep (1943), A Flower (1950)

Volume 3 (1991)
: Four4 (1991)

Volume 4 (1940-1956)
: 27'10.554" for a Percussionist (1956), Fads and Fancies in the Academy (1940), Four Dances [What so proudly we hail] (1942-43)

Volume 5 (1935-1991): Six (1991), Quartet (1936), One4 (1990), Dance Music for Elfrid Ide (1940) , Three2 (1991)

Volume 6 (1975-1991): Haikai (1986), Child of Tree (1975), Branches (1976), Five4 (1991), cComposed Improvisation (bass guitar; 1987-90), cComposed Improvisation (snare drum; 1987-90), But What About the Noise of Crumpling Paper... (1985)

*While Cage aficionados may argue amongst themselves about what works should be definitively included in such a list, the only composition I'm really referring to here is the John Cage/Kenneth Patchen collaboration, The City Wears a Slouch Hat (1942), available from C.F. Peters as EP 67479. And Cage's ubiquitous 4'33", arguably scored for anything and everything, appears on Amadinda's 1988 CD entitled simply 4'33" (Hungaroton Classic 12991).

Interestingly, neither Cage's Quartet (1935) nor Trio (1935) was conceived with particular instruments in mind. As Cage himself elucidated in a 1988 interview with B. Michael Williams ("The Early Percussion Music of John Cage, 1935-1943," Percussive Notes, August 1993), it was partly due to this that early performances varied so widely. He would ultimately fix his Trio into a work for 3 percussionists, incorporating the third movement "Waltz" in his later Amores (1943), but the Quartet was allowed to (continue to) roam free.

Cage's Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (March No. 1) for 12 radios and ensemble (1951) and Imaginary Landscape No. 5 for 42 LP recordings (1952) pose particular problems. Leaving aside the question of how to best classify LP recordings and radios according to current organological standards, Cage's Imaginary Landscapes as a whole are still not fully settled with regard to chronological orderings, titles, and instrumentations. Cage himself felt compelled early on to clarify them in a letter to his California colleague, Peter Yates, as follows:

"Now for guidelines as you request on postcard. There are 5 Imaginary Landscapes. First is on the Town Hall record. Second, I hope has been lost. It was like the first as far as instrumentation goes but fancy rather than stark. The third is for percussion orchestra and a great deal of machinery and was done at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943. The 4th is for 12 radios and is also entitled March No. 2. The 5th is on tape and is fragments of 43 jazz records spliced together." (December 28, 1959)

But, as U.C. Santa Cruz Professor of Music Leta Miller* has argued, Cage's recollections sometimes serve to further muddy what are sometimes already quite muddy waters. Miller's scholarly emphasis is on mid-20th-century experimental music in the U.S., and two of her articles on John Cage bear noting here: "The Art of Noise," in Perspectives on American Music, 1900-1950, edited by Michael Saffle (Essays in American Music, Vol. 3, Garland Publications, 2000), and "Cultural Intersections: John Cage in Seattle (1938-1940)," in John Cage: Music, Philosophy, and Intention, 1933-1950, edited by David Patterson (Studies in Contemporary Music and Culture, Routledge, 2008).

*While a significant contributor to Cage scholarship, Miller is best known for her extensive writings on Lou Harrison, especially the heralded biography, with Fredric Lieberman, Lou Harrison: Composing a World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), which was released in an updated paperback edition in 2004 by the University of Illinois Press.

But, returning to Cage's Imaginary Landscape No. 4 and No. 5, confusion be damned, as both works are happily included in gorgeous new CD and DVD releases from Mode Records featuring the Percussion Group Cincinnati entitled John Cage: Works for Percussion, Vol. 1 (2011). Included on both are not only fine performances of all five of Cage's Imaginary Landscape works, but a very spirited realization of Credo in US as well, a bit of which can be seen and heard here.

All of this is, of course, music to our ears!

Laura Kuhn

04 July 2011

John Cage Book of Days 2012

The John Cage Book of Days 2012 is back from the printer and will soon be on the shelves of a bookstore near you!

This special centennial year edition is devoted entirely to Cage and food, with quotations taken from his "Where Are We Eating? And What Are We Eating?", published in its entirely in Empty Words: Writings '73-'78 (Wesleyan University Press, 1979). The cover was created using fragments of Cage's Edible Drawing No. 1 (1990), made entirely of lemon, sesame seeds, and mushrooms, which literally didn't make it back from a London exhibition in one piece. Cage's introduction to "Where Are We Eating? And What Are We Eating", originally written for James Klosty's beautiful photographic book, Merce Cunningham, is also included, serving as this year's Foreword.

John Cage loved to cook and he loved to eat. At first it was cream, butter, and a good leg of lamb, and then later, after the ravages of age began to take their toll (and on sage advice from Yoko Ono), the more austere ingredients that filled his macrobiotic kitchen shelves. Thumbnails gracing this year's pages are scans of the covers of various of Cage's cookbooks, now collectively housed at the John Cage Trust, which tell a story unto themselves...

And, as usual, also included are important historic dates -- first performances, special events and appearances, births and deaths -- highlighting pages throughout.

The John Cage Book of Days in any year is a labor of love, mostly involving two kindred spirits -- Laura Kuhn, of the John Cage Trust, its editor, and Naomi Yang, of Exact Change, its designer.

Naomi Yang and her partner Damon Krukowski are the publishers of John Cage's Composition in Retrospect. But Naomi has also worked with the John Cage Trust on her own, being the designer of the beautiful libretto booklet for the theatrical production of Cage's James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet produced by the John Cage Trust in 2001-2002.

Alphabet is being remounted this coming Fall at Bard College, November 11 and 12, 2011, 8 pm, on the Sosnoff Stage of the beautiful Frank Gehry Fisher Center for the Performing Arts.

Several of the original cast members will return:

John Kelly ("Narrator"),
Mikel Rouse ("James Joyce"),

and Trevor Carlson ("Brigham Young"),

but also Merce Cunningham ("Erik Satie"),

at least in spirit.

Merce's 2001 appearance in Alphabet marked his return to the "literary" stage after a hiatus of some 60 years. His voice, happily captured in his original performances, will continue to fill the role, but we're looking far and wide for the perfect corporeal spirit to inhabit his place on the stage. Melissa Madden Gray and Jasper Johns provide the ethereal, off-stage voices for Vocoder and Rrose Selavy (respectively), and we're currently searching for others to fill the remaining roles ("Henry David Thoreau," "Buckminster Fuller," "Robert Rauschenberg," "Oppian," "Marcel Duchamp," "Veblen," "Jonathan Albert," and "Mao Tse Tung"). This promises to be a lively start to Cage's centennial year.

But returning to the John Cage Book of Days 2012 for a moment, lest anyone think this is a collector's item, something to be placed tenderly on a shelf for eternal safe keeping, take a look at a page or two from the John Cage Book of Days 2011 belonging to Lupe Nunez-Fernandez of the band Amor de Dias.

And I thought my life was busy...

Laura Kuhn

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

16 February 2011

Smelling the Proverbial Roses

In the days just before Merce Cunningham died, we often just sat together, idly talking. One time, I was fidgeting with an unused wallet that was sitting on the small table between us, and, looking inside, I was surprised to find a single business card, very old and worn.

I looked up quizzically, and saw an uncharacteristically wistful expression on Merce's face. "Oh, that!" he said, taking it between his trembling fingers and smiling down at it. "I stayed there after our world tour. It was so beautiful, right on the water. I saved the card thinking that maybe I'd go back." He clumsily returned it to the wallet. "Did you?" I asked. He looked confused for a moment, then quietly replied, "Oh, no." Sadly shaking his head, he tossed the wallet onto the table. "There never seemed to be enough time."

This made me remember a conversation I once had with John Cage late in his life about regrets. Did he have any?

(Significantly, this conversation took place in the midst of a staggering amount of work being done on his Europeras 1 & 2 for the Frankfurt Oper, which almost did him in. No matter how much he delegated, Cage himself was functioning as composer, set designer, costumer, choreographer, lighting designer, director, librettist. The list goes on. And Cage in Wagner's shoes was not a natural fit.)

Just one, he allowed. It had to do with the Sarabhais in India (of Gita and Gira fame), who had once invited him to come with them on a trek into the wilds of their country, on elephants. He was sorry, he said, not to have made the time.

I shared this memory, along with the story of Merce's card, with Rob Shepperson, a lovely Hudson Valley artist, and asked if he might create an image of Cage's dream come true. He did, and I like to think it did, if on an unknown plane. As Richard Fleming says, referencing Camus (speaking of Sisyphus), one must imagine Cage happy.

Rob Shepperson ©2011

Laura Kuhn

31 January 2011

Evil and Silence (Richard Fleming)

...Humans seem to be nothing but a walking injustice -- a featherless biped who makes mistakes. To be of passion is to yield to injustice. This is the life of the body and why some have argued for the need to be free of material existence if we are to achieve our moral ends. Surely, we should never claim to be a just person. This has never been our aim or conclusion. We have said only that we should set about to be just -- and also that such an ambition involves suffering and unhappiness. But is this distinction so important? It is what we fight for and must preserve. We know (without much effort or reflection) our disorder, the evidence of certain instincts, the graceless abandon into which we can throw ourselves. But we also know better now (because of our struggling efforts and reflections) the limits of our talk and action. We know better our possibilities. Often when we thought we were moving forward we were losing ground. Someday, when a balance is established between what we are and what we say and do, perhaps then, and we scarcely dare write it, we shall be able to construct the work of which we dream. "Shrill sound never roused me from my slumbers." Musical creation and expression are efforts that exhibit the silent threaded order of word and world and allow the meaningful possibility of a life that can be called good. Music can quiet and sober desperate lives. One must imagine Cage happy.

Richard Fleming, from "Second Book: Ordinary Silence," in Evil and Silence (Paradigm Publishers, 2010)

Laura Kuhn

30 January 2011

John Cage & Electronic Publishing

"We can't be satisfied with distribution now because it won't be very good. For instance, my book (Silence), published in the United States, is very difficult to get outside the United States, and that won't be solved, because all of the publishing problems of books, and objects, and things in quantity are still those of the previous culture. Yet with the number of people who work now -- the number of composers, the number of authors, and so on -- has vastly increased over the 19th century; but the number of publishers has not increased. The result is that you have traffic problems, so you have the kind of problems that all large cities encounter with automobile traffic. And I hear, where I go now, that in the future we may expect that private traffic in large cities will be forbidden. It may then equally be forbidden to produce a book that would require people to distribute it, but it will not be forbidden, certainly, to send information by electronic media throughout the world." (John Cage, 1965)

John Cage is ever presaging, but, to date, electronic publications of his writings are scant. Kindle (my e-reader of choice) offers only three: Ken Silverman's Begin Again: An Autobiography of John Cage (Knopf, 2010), Kyle Gann's No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage's 4'33" (Yale University Press, 2010), and Richard Kostelanetz's Conversing With Cage (Limelight Editions, 1988).* Apple's iBooks (and wouldn't Cage's mesostics positively shine on an iPad) offers nothing at all.

As the three Cage e-books go, it's not a bad line-up: a detailed biography, a comprehensive look at Cage's most infamous (and arguably most guiding) composition, and a compilation of conversational engagements (this last, happily, with an index). But, things are going to change. Wesleyan University Press, Cage's stalwart principal publisher for now 50 years, is hard at work with renderings of their entire Cage catalog into electronic form. But, here as elsewhere in the workaday world, Cage poses challenges: Cage's texts are anything but e-reader friendly, so publication (launch) dates are still uncertain. And while I'm at it, let me reveal (a bit ahead of the game) that Wesleyan University Press is busily preparing a 50th anniversary hardcover edition of Cage's maverick Silence (1961), with a beautiful foreword by none other than Kyle Gann.

*The Kindle Store also offers Kostelanetz's Preambles to the New (2009), comprised entirely of prefaces created for previous books. Collectively they span more than four decades (1963-2010), and are grouped
together chronologically under headings that suggest the direction each takes: "Criticism", "Literature", "Artists & Composers", "Politics", etc. There's a new "preamble" by Kostelanetz, and a new introduction, entitled "Master Kosti," contributed by John Rocco. This work is nothing short of masterful recycling, and an elevation of the foreword to dizzying heights. Richard Kostelanetz is an accomplished writer, and prolific to boot; Cage's personal library houses some 14 of his tomes, while the John Cage Trust's print archive includes nearly two dozen. My personal favorites, in addition to the Cage-infused works, are Esthetics Contemporary (Prometheus Books, 1978), Text-Sound-Texts (William Morrow & Co., 1980), and The Theatre of Mixed Means (Dial Press, 1968), all long out of print. A few of his writings are also available for online reading at, a division of Gale, Cengage Learning.

Laura Kuhn