All Things Cage: Laura Kuhn on “Chance Conversations: An Interview with Cunningham and Cage” (Walker Art Center, 1981) (Audio)

Apr 29, 2023
Hosted by Laura Kuhn, Executive Director of the John Cage Trust.

Laura Kuhn introduces “Chance Conversations: An Interview with Cunningham and Cage,” which took place during a residency at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1981. As almost life-long collaborators, Cage and Cunningham pioneered a new framework of performance, their novel approach allowing for their respective mediums to cohabitate within a performance, thus abandoning the centuries-long, co-dependent model of dance and music. The two artists discuss the methodology and motivations behind chance operations, a term used to describe artistic decisions based on unpredictability. Wanting to free himself of his likes and dislikes, Cage describes how Zen Buddhism influenced his work, leading him to use I Ching-inflected tools of chance. These new methods, adopted by both Cunningham and Cage, albeit with distinctions, overturned a whole foundation of thought around music, movement, and the process of creating art. In the second half of the program, we listen to Takehisa Kosugi’s Spectra (1989), a work composed for Cunningham’s Cargo X.

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"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 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!