John Cage performance at Stanford University

This early October, while passing through California, I stopped at Stanford University to attend two concerts as part of the world-wide celebration of John Cage’s centennial. This was the only “deadline” I had on my trip; besides this concert, I didn’t particularly have to be anywhere, at any time. This was something I definitely wanted to attend. Being in Vermont a bit and mostly New Orleans for most of 2012, as well as being on the road, I wasn’t able to partake in any Cage Centennial events.

I was happily surprised to see some of my favourite Cage pieces in the program: Six Melodies, Cheap Imitation and Ryoanji. There was also a panel discussion, comprising Christian Wolff, Laura Kuhn, Walter Zimmermann and Kathan Brown.

I asked a question that kind of threw them off a bit, and they never gave me a direct answer. I asked if, because the majority of Cage’s work was determined  by chance operations (almost all of it post- (approximately) 1950), Cage had any other avenues for self expression, as he made a conscious decision to separate his musical and visual work from his own personal intentions. Cage’s personal life, aside from his relationship with Merce Cunningham, isn’t discussed much, and I’ve always wondered what sort of relationship he had with himself.

Anyway, here are some drawings I made in reaction to some of the pieces played, which included pieces by John Cage, Walter Zimmerman, Christian Wolff  and Frederic Rzewski (the amazing Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, previously unheard by me).


John Cage’s birthday on Frenchman Street, New Orleans

5 September 2012

So, there wasn’t too much going on for John Cage’s 100th birthday in New Orleans. Indeed, Googling the words ‘”John Cage” Centennial “New Orleans”‘ actually brought me to a few entries on my own blog. So, my friend and housemate, Joe, listened to all John Cage while at home that day. I was in the midst of packing, so it was my accompaniment to that. I listened to The Seasons three times, because I love it so much, most of Roaratorio :  An Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake, many of his early pieces, including some of the recordings featuring the extraordinary voice of Robert Wyatt, from the Obscure Records LP, released in 1976. One of my favourite records, period. His voice is perfect for those songs.

Joe also accompanied me to Frenchman Street while I sold art that night. Before going down there I stopped at a FedEx store on Canal Street, and made a few copies of this poster I made. The man working there had a big beard, was very friendly, and seemed to have a few artistic tendencies, so I asked him if he knew of John Cage. He said no, but asked if he might recognise any of his work. I told him about the silent piece, 4’33”, how controversial it was and continues to be, why it’s important and so forth. He responded with an indifferent “hmm”, and then wished me a good evening.

I set up my art on Frenchman Street where I normally do, near my good friend Erin, who writes poetry on her typewriter. Joe decided it was a night to film, so he did, as inconspicuously as he could. For the longest time no one said anything about the image. And then, out of the blue, a middle-aged woman, dressed for the night with makeup, jewelry, heels and the works, screamed “Ah, John Cage !” and enthusiastically pointed at the picture. I replied calmly, “Oh, you know him ?” And to that, she replied, “Yes, I’m Merce Cunningham’s niece !” I was shocked. Completely lost for words. It took me a while to piece together those five words, but after an unidentifiable amount of time, it all made sense. Or, of course, as much sense as that statement can make on John Cage’s 100th birthday in New Orleans. She continued to explain more of the obvious :  that she was, in fact, Merce’s niece. She then told me how she had dinner with John many times, how he always had a sparkle in his eye (I knew that … ), and how kind and warm he was, always. It was so lovely to hear all those things. We talked a bit more, about the Cornish School, Seattle, mushrooms, and so on. She was very friendly and happy to know that many younger people are interested in Merce’s and John’s work, if not more than before. So it was a good conversation to have !

That’s about it. I could go on and on about the very drunken electrician from Pennsylvania who was shipped in with his company to work on the power outages in New Orleans post Hurricane Issac, and how he stayed with us for at least an hour, talking in layers of intoxicated circles about fixing telephone wires, the translation of Baton Rouge, the State of Georgia, his childlike ideas on art (uninhibited, fresh and flawed), and Erin’s hair. But I don’t have time to write much more. (Writing from West Texas at the moment.) But it’s worth it to say that he was one of the three people who bought something that night (this print), one featuring an abstracted cascade of loosely rendered flowers.

Happy 100th birthday, John Cage

Happy 100th birthday to John Cage !

John Cage has been my inspiration and hero for many years now. This rather striking and slightly disturbing image was taken from Laura Kuhn’s blog on the John Cage Centennial site. Oh, the ’70s…

I wish I had time to write about my thoughts on Cage and his influence on me and that which is important to me, but I just don’t !  Busy day. Leaving New Orleans tomorrow or Friday.

For those who are not too familiar, there’s an insightful article here, from the Los Angeles Times, about Cage’s early years during the ’20s and ’30s, a time that is fascinating to me for many, many reasons. There are many other articles as well.

“A Brief New Year’s Observation” / John Cage – The Number Pieces 6, etc

I received this statement in the Mode Records email bulletin, and I think it’s worth distributing further.

Written by Brian Brandt :

“A BRIEF NEW YEAR’S OBSERVATION: The arts and the music business continue to be battered economically, and internationally, with governments cutbacks of funding along with depressed sales of music both physically and digitally. Though Billboard’s wrap up of 2011 U.S. music sales shows that total sales were up 6.9% for the year, this is not necessarily experienced by the independent and niche labels.

At the risk of being accused a “dinosaur” or “irrelevant”,  I feel it is important to note that there a ramifications to the democracy of the web, in particular the circulation of illegal free downloads (whose effect is obvious) as well the the “legal” use of streaming services like Spotify, Rhapsody, etc. Music listeners should note that these streaming services pay very little per stream – $0.0045 on the average. As an example, Mode had 28,060 streams via one of these services in January and we were paid a total of $6.2034! (you are not misreading, that is SIX dollars – the decimal places are indeed correct). Yes, these services may be convenient and liberating but listeners should be aware that such income is not adequate to sustain labels or artists.

When writing and talking about this subject, I have been accused of needing to evolve and this is how the world is going to be. Maybe so. But the costs to make a quality recording, whether issued physically or into the ether digitally does not change. Such recordings cannot continue to be made if income is severely diminished. And unlike major labels, the independents cannot easily make up the difference by promoting concert tours, selling T-shirts, posters and other merchandising.

So yes, those who can make their music at home or in their garage may (or may not) benefit from this “democratic” level playing field. But quality niche recordings cannot continue indefinitely in such an economic environment. And so in time less and less quality adventurous recordings will be made and the digital democracy’s effect can actually starve out and diminish the amount of new music you will hear – the exact opposite of the digital utopia predicted by so many pundits.

In closing, please consider your approach to music and how you obtain it. Purchase it, whether physically or digitally, and consider the impact of the music you obtain by streaming. Every person can make a difference.”

On another note, the email bulletin also mentioned a new John Cage “Number Pieces” volume, part of Mode Records’ extremely valued and thorough series documenting much of Cage’s work. The series is listed here. The new volume, #44, is called “The Number Pieces 6”. This volume will contain :

Five (1988) 
for any five voices or instruments

Seven (1988)
for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, piano & percussion

Thirteen (1992)
for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, tuba, 2 violins, viola, cello & 2 xylophones

Thirteen is a rarely recorded piece. These were performed by the ensemble Essential Music. Forthcoming on Mode as well, apparently, is a collection of percussion pieces by Third Coast Percussion.

There are a number of John Cage recordings forthcoming this year, as well as festivals focusing on his music. Last year we didn’t see many new recordings, so perhaps this one will make up for that. Some of those festivals and events can be read about here.

John Cage’s music, philosophies, artwork and (especially ?) his personality have been extremely important to me over the past couple years. His work is as unending as the cosmos and as grounded as the roots below us. I’m very excited to see what 2012, his centennial, will bring us.