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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