Iain Cameron's Diary
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2005-06-01 - 7:07 a.m.

Have a look at today’s poem on KK news.

I wish I could find my copy of Orton’s book on J Johns. Orton has an alternative theory to Collings on where the meaning comes from. I do have a handy catalogue of Merce Cage and Johns with an introduction by S Sontag which I looked at in the garden yesterday . The RadArt Review explains that Orton’s take on meaning is that there is tight group who share common concerns very deeply. You can see this going on in the relationship between Rausch and Cage and the white canvasses at Black Mountain , the silent piece Muic for Changes etc. In the catalogue there is a Johns interpretation of one of the prepared piano pieces - Perilous Night - 30 years after its composition - more evidence of profound engagement between this tight group.

Johns is also reported to have been very interested in LW - all very heady stuff - plus Tantric ideas - the sort of thing that Cage and Merce were involved with at the time of 16 dances - just before the silent piece etc. So the creative concerns of the group of mates amplify and repercuss even over decades. An early Johns piece uses a toy piano - like contemporary Cage. So the meaning cooks up in this kind of comradeship - it exists prior to the art world talking up the price with all kinds of justification. The meaning that results is full of ambiguity and seems to be pregnant with the future - meaning and reference float in and out.

I looked up the Orton Johns book on Amazon and found a really bitchy review by Ms Pollock - one of the big names in post-fem criticism. Here’s FO and G Bryars in the mid 70s talking to Feldman about the cluster:

|| MF: What is fantastic about Cage is that it's always the great artist that defines the age. In other words if you're just going to use normal instruments, no matter how revolutionary, no matter how beautifully you do it, you are still an easel painter. Cage separated the genre. I'm in the old genre. I think that John also was brought up in another kind of tradition, not the Bauhaus but a tradition of experimentation with materials. And remember he studied with Schoenberg, who was one of the few composers of our century who really didn't have that much vested interest. He was always into research. I think it's that research aspect that has got off on John, even though you may ask what relationship he has to Schoenberg. If you think about Schoenberg's life, it's quite unique that he would leave things and go on to others and be interested in materials, and so in Cage. Both of them, the student and the teacher. Rauschenberg and Cage is also a terrific parallel because they are interested in materials too, and always doing different things. There are times where their work almost coincides. John's transparency scores, the plastic sheets were made just about the same time Bob was doing the plexiglass things.[19] While Jasper is closer to me. Jasper just keeps on going.

GB: He is still 'easel painting' and demonstrating that it's possible to do something new in that way too?

MF: Yes. There's only one me and there's only one Jasper, obviously.

FO: But I get the impression that you feel closer to Johns now than when you first met him in the early 1950s.

MF: Yes I feel very, very close to Jasper Johns. Very close to his work.

FO: Very close to his recent paintings?

MF: It's another aspect of experimentation. I feel very close to Jasper and I feel very close to Rothko's last pictures. A few months before he killed himself, when he was very upset about his work, Rothko kept on saying to me: 'Do you think it's there? Is it really there?' When he had one thing there and one thing over there, and it's art, then you can talk about it. But those last pictures, what is there to talk about? Those pictures are very close to Jasper Johns in certain ways - poetry.

FO: Is poetry, then, synonymous with questioning? That's one of the things Johns' work does, and I suppose Rothko's does in the sense that it poses questions. Perhaps one can articulate the questions Johns poses better in terms of vocabulary.

MF: Well, the thing is: what is the discovery in embracing materials? What I'm really asking myself is: what am I going to learn now with a laser beam? What am I going to learn now? It's nature. ||

This shows how difficult it must be to try to drill down to what was really going on within the group when a certain artwork was created.


Think of Booker T and the MG s - the Memphis Horns - D Thompson and J Martyn. The 70s band with John Stevens from the Spontaneous Music Ensemble on Live at Leeds - which may even be tied in some way to Gavin Bryars before he went to the USA and discovered Cage. In fact here ‘s a 2004 comment:

{{Gavin Bryars, who studied with Cage in the 1960s, explained that studying with Cage was not like any conventional idea of tuition: it meant spending time in his company and absorbing his values. Didacticism was alien to Cage, and he sought to remain on the same level as the performers, artists and students around him – often open to new ideas from any direction. No one who spent any time with John Cage, said Bryars, ever ended up sounding like him. His 4'33" cleared the slate, and gave you the freedom to be yourself.}}

So understanding this kind of work involves lots of detective work - probing the codes - sifting the dustbins - a good degree of obsession. Its controversial as well - you tend to identify a great deal with the subject of study - possibly too much. You feel the meaning slip in and out of focus.

I decided yesterday I was going to carve chunks out of the SP journals and drop them onto the vids. T Dann wrote about the ND volume and some Ndjazz at Fitzwilliam. Songs of misery and romance as J Martyn tells Dublin. Actually I did one this morning with bits of Sappho and VFT.

Yesterday I thought about a new to me chord - from the bottom - Dd Gb G Bb - it’s a Gb triad with a G added. I thought it could be used as the second chord in a standard C turnaround - as it would be if the Gb was an E.

I listened to LN live on the Mountain Stage in 1990 singing about Coltrane in the moon. I need to set up that Yamaha rig plugged into the DVD machine. Obsession leading to something elusive(or Fb). More a keyboard than a guitar chord.


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