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

Jul 31, 2021
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,, 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 and I’ll send you a transcript!