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All Things Cage: Robert Worby, ‘Silent Witness: John Cage, Zen and Japan’

May 14, 2022: 7pm - 8pm
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All Things Cage: Robert Worby, ‘Silent Witness: John Cage, Zen and Japan’ Broadcast Image

All Things Cage: Robert Worby, ‘Silent Witness: John Cage, Zen and Japan’ Broadcast Image. Courtesy the John Cage Trust. From the I Ching.

Hosted by Laura Kuhn, Executive Director of the John Cage Trust.

Robert Worby introduces John Cage in this marvelous 2020 BBC Radio 3 documentary, ‘Silent Witness: John Cage, Zen and Japan’ as “…arguably the most important composer of the 20th century, even though he's perhaps famous, or infamous, depending on your point of view, for writing a piece of music that is 4'33" of silence. Famous because it made his reputation - after all, composers write music, not silence – and infamous because, not unsurprisingly, it's outraged, perplexed, and fascinated audiences since its premiere in 1952. Cage though was deadly serious about his silent piece, and Worby goes on an odyssey to find out what Cage thought silence was, and why silence was central to his life and work. He goes to the quietest place in the UK - so quiet you can't hear a pin drop - to experience what John Cage did, when he entered an anechoic chamber in the ‘50s in search of silence. But it's not as straightforward as you might think, as Worby discovers Cage didn't find the silence he was seeking, and instead found something even more surprising. The key to understanding 4’33”, and Cage’s fascination with silence, is his interest in the discipline of Zen Buddhism, which unlocked a whole new world of hearing sound that he charted through chance operations. It led to a meeting of like minds when Cage met Yoko Ono in New York who instantly saw the Zen influence on his work. In 1962, Ono and her husband, Toshi Ichiyanagi, invited Cage to visit Japan - his Zen spiritual homeland - a trip that later became known as the ‘Cage Shock’. It was a turning point in his career, where his ground-breaking performances sealed his reputation as the most controversial and experimental composer in the world. The program features two UK premieres on BBC Radio 3, an interview Worby recorded with Cage when he met the composer in his Manhattan loft in the ‘80s after finding his number in the phone book, and Cage reading his Lecture on Nothing, his enigmatic musing on silence.” Silent Witness was produced by Andrew Carter - A BBC Radio Cumbria Production. ©BBC 2022. - Reprinted from https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000kwm0

"All Things Cage" is a weekly program featuring conversations between Laura Kuhn, Director of the John Cage Trust, and Cage experts and enthusiasts from around the world. If you’d like to propose a guest or a topic for a future program, write directly to Laura at lkuhn@johncage.org. She’d love to hear from you.

The late Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Kenneth Silverman once described his Begin Again: A Biography of John Cage (Knopf, 2012) as the hardest book he’d ever written. This was because, as he put it, pick up any rock and there’s John Cage! Indeed, Cage was not only a world-renowned composer, numbering among his compositions the still notoriously tacet 4’33”, but a ground-breaking poet, a philosopher, a chess master who studied with Marcel Duchamp, a macrobiotic chef, a devotee of Zen Buddhism, a prolific visual artist, and an avid and pioneering mycologist. He was also life partner to the celebrated American choreographer, Merce Cunningham, for nearly half a century, and thus well known in the world of modern dance.

No wonder, then, that nearly everyone who encounters the man or his life’s work has something interesting to say about John Cage!