WGXC-90.7 FM

All Things Cage: Laura Kuhn on John Cage and Improvisation, Part II

Jul 31, 2021: 7pm - 8pm
WGXC 90.7-FM: Radio for Open Ears

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Standing Wave Radio

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

Last week, Kuhn focused Part I upon a little-known work by Cage entitled How to Get Started, conceived in 1989 for “Sound Design: An Invitational Conference on the Uses of Sound for Radio Drama, Film, Video, Theater and Music,” sponsored by Bay Area Radio Drama and held at Sprocket Systems, Skywalker Ranch in Nicasio, California. To recap, How to Get Started came about almost as an afterthought – a performance that would substitute for another that had been previously planned. It grew out of an altercation Cage had a week earlier with the composer Anthony Davis during Davis’s presentation at “Composer-to-Composer” in Telluride, Colorado, wherein Cage essentially dismissed the usefulness of improvisation. This didn’t go over well, as one might imagine, and Cage was haunted by his remarks throughout the conference and into his travels to California for the “Sound Design” conference at which he was scheduled to speak.

For his new work, Cage proposed a collaborative framework in which sound engineers would capture and subsequently layer his extemporized monologue, which consisted of ten improvised commentaries on topics of interest. This was an experiment in improvisation, to be sure, but it was also an experiment in thinking in public, before a live audience. Some 20 years later, in 2010, the John Cage Trust partnered with the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia to create a unique and permanent interactive installation of How to Get Started, which would enable the public to participate in its further life. The project’s website, www.howtogetstarted.org, has become an evolving digital repository and archive for the recordings effected by invited artists and others.

Tonight, we’ll listen to Cage’s extemporized performance in its entirety. Since audibility isn’t always assured because of the layered format, anyone interested in reading Cage’s 10 extemporizations on their own can drop a request to lkuhn@johncage.org and I’ll send you a transcript!

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!

Photo ©Loren Robare.