Iain Cameron's Diary
"Click here to access the Fruitful Album" - Click here to visit Music for the Highveld Project
2004-03-27 - 9:26 p.m.
Peter Gena Composer, Associate Professor and Chair, Time-Arts Program,The School of the Art Institute of Chicago wrote in 1992, right at the end of Cage’s life for an exhibition:
“By the early 1950s Cage had already emerged as a central figure of the avant-garde. He had absorbed a myriad of ideas from the work of many acquaintances and luminaries from both coasts and Europe. His experimentation with quasi-serial processes led him to eschew the dominance of pitch and harmony, and thus to explore systematic methods for constructing music through rhythm and duration.
He had learned to appreciate the virtues of noise, creating percussion pieces that used instruments, junk, and his new invention, the prepared piano, in which noises are produced by inserting various objects between the strings. Additionally, his sonic palette was expanded to include environmental sounds, electronics, radio, speech, and other vernacular sources.
A deep interest in composer Erik Satie, Marcel Duchamp, the surrealists, and Zen (he studied with Daisetz Suzuki) subsequently prompted Cage to gradually remove control in favor of chance procedures, work with irrational durations, and free sounds to be themselves through non-linear progression, while liberating silence. Merce Cunningham, a Cage collaborator since 1944, unbound dance movement in a corresponding manner
While neither Rauschenberg nor Cage wholly embraced the tenets of abstract expressionism, they did endorse the notion of a lack of concentration of material towards the center. The equal tension over the entire canvas of many of the paintings in this exhibit support Cage’s penchant for a lack of beginning, climax, and denouement in music.
As a result, the seating as well as the stage in the first Black Mountain happening was set with no central focus in mind, showing Cage’s preference for a three-ring circus effect. Similarly, since the inception of his own permanent dance company in 1953, Merce Cunningham has treated the entire stage as a dynamic region with no central focus when positioning the dancers.
Although Robert Rauschenberg’s White Paintings preceded Cage’s composition 4'33" (1952) by almost a year, the concept behind these famous open forms was "in the air" for quite some time. Rauschenberg acknowledges that Albers "taught me such respect for all colors that it took years before I could use more than two colors at once."
He preferred to suppress personal preference, so as not to subordinate or dominate the presence of one color by the use of another. Similarly, Cage recalls that in 1940 he was employed by the WPA as a recreation leader, and that the experience:
"may have been the birth of the silent piece, because my first assignment . . . was to go to a hospital in San Francisco and entertain the children of the visitors. But I was not allowed to make any sound while I was doing it, for fear that it would disturb the patients. So I thought up games involving movement around the rooms and counting, etc., dealing with some kind of rhythm in space".2
Cage’s 4'33 acts as a time grid for the fortuitous sounds in the performance space just as White Paintings serve as a ground for incidental light and shadows. Unlike Water Music, the horizontal time-space in 4'33 specifies no intentional events except vertical bar-lines which indicate beginnings (60 on top) and endings (i.e. 30"). It consists of three movements with their combined lengths (30", 2'23", 1'40") adding up to the total duration indicated by the title.
The piece, for any instrument or group of instruments, was premiered by David Tudor in Woodstock, New York in the fall of 1952. Tudor delineated the movements by closing and opening the keyboard cover between movements. A performance of the piece works only in the context of a concert when the audience does not purposefully contribute to the ambience.
Similarly, the objective of the White Paintings would be abused by anyone intentionally attempting to project silhouettes on the canvas. Silence is allowed to emerge over sound, and vice-versa, much like the way the white and black overlay each other on the surface of a painting by Franz Kline. 4'33", like Cage’s works with determinate notation, frees music without leaving performers to their own devices.
The White Paintings and 4'33" proved to be a profound inspiration to artists of all disciplines. In the winter of 1954, Paul Taylor, a Cunningham dancer who also led his own company, executed Duet, a collaboration with Rauschenberg. It consisted of Taylor standing and a partner sitting — both motionless throughout the performance.
In the early 1960s, Naim June Paik produced Zen for Film, a lengthy work of clear film which accumulates scratches, etc., with each showing. Paik preferred to create a "living movie" by meditating in front of the light during the screening, an imposition antithetical to Cage’s premise of non-intention in 4'33".
Around the same time, Austrian Peter Kubelka and American Tony Conrad independently created imageless films that exclusively employed the four extreme elements of film: light, darkness, sound, and silence. Conrad’s The Flicker, as the name suggests, alternates between light and dark, accelerating to a frenzy with a single tone increasing in intensity and pitch.
Kubelka’s 6-1/2-minute film, Arnulf Rainer, employs long sections of light accompanied by white noise, and darkness accompanied by silence. Kubelka’s detractors suggest that the Öesterreiches Filmmuseum, an unpleasant black box that he had built in Vienna to eliminate every possible distraction from the screen (very un-Cagean), was in fact designed with this film in mind.
One can scarcely imagine how artists of the 1950s were expected to continue working after the appearance of the White Paintings and 4'33". These two works at once effectively closed the book on painting and composing, while widening the door for conceptual, minimal, pluralistic, and multicultural work.
Rauschenberg and Cage persisted in expanding the techniques of indeterminacy. Automobile Tire Print (1953), a "collaboration" between the two friends, involved Cage driving his Model A Ford over a length of connected drawing sheets with Rauschenberg carefully directing as he applied black paint to one of the rear tires. The continuity of the recognizable image constitutes a documentation, or "recording" of this act. Dirt Painting (for John Cage) (1953), is likewise a documentation of mold and lichen growing on the surface of the work.
These works, which uncover an order by way of a circumstantial method, fall short of the extent to which Cage uses randomness in process. The 22-foot-long tire print is a map of a linear progression, whereas a length of magnetic tape used by Cage in Williams Mix (1952), for example, is a history of juxtaposed events created by means of splicing recorded sound according to chance processes. Rauschenberg sees a fundamental difference when approaching indeterminacy in space as opposed to time:
"I tried to explain to John Cage that you can’t use chance in painting without turning out an intellectual piece. You can use it in time, because then you can change time".3
Accordingly Cage freely admits that he has never had any use for sound recordings — including those of his own music — unless they can be used as part of a process to create something else; they ought to be changed with each playing.
Indeed, Cage and Rauschenberg are still in constant search of change as they avoid getting too comfortable in a style. This is perhaps the most astounding trait that often distinguishes them from other successful artists. After one of the most exhilarating, inspiring, and fertile periods of modern cultural history, their work abounds in change as they continue to breathe new life into art.”
Tony Conrad was a LmY collaborator and one of NJP’s early pranks was to perform the LmY piece about the straight line – before he became the first major video artist ever.
Cabaret Voltaire, Original Sounds of Sheffield 83-87 has arrived. This material is the indigenous reaction to the same material that Detroit reacted to via the Electrifying Mojo – South Yorkshire versus South East Michigan. There is this annoying issue of whether mastering has crossed the border into re-mixing. Johann Carlson says:
“All this sounds a bit dated now, but as a historical document, this CD is a masterpiece. If you are interested in the roots of electronic body music, this is a part of it. There are some other compilations with the Sheffield legends out there. This album mostly contains remixed versions, so if you want the originals, maybe you should get "The Living Legends" on Mute Records. There is also a three CD box called "Conform to Deform '82/'90. Archive;" which contains even more remixes.”
I spent the morning doing some detailed appraisal of the newly published DfES research on VET systems from Leicester. When I was buying the Box I was served by an avant jazz pianist who has just moved here from Leicester – he said that there was more of an avant scene there. I said that when I went to see the Nice I was struck by the fact that an obscure punk reconstruction video that I had read about at Video Acts at the ICA was going to be shown in L. I said that he ought to look at a) The Wire b) Ikon and c) BEAST.
Talking of BEAST I am getting into the Canadian contemporary electro-acoustic free jazz that I got at the CBSO BEAST-fest.
Paul W mailed – I replied with an unusual fact about the relationship between Miles and G Evans garnered from QT’s book. On theories of “the time”, I reflected on the New Grange, Prescelly stuff on BBC2 – will visit Old Sarum tomorrow.
Made a new note on harmony in the current book.