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The Rest isn't Silence. . .
it doesn't exist!

My association with John Cage began on March 30, 1959 with a performance that went into the history books. As a result of my working at the U. C. Berkeley Music Library, I was asked to control one of the radios in a KPFA broadcast of John Cage’s Imaginary Landscape No.4 for 12 radios, 24 players and conductor. It was only the second performance of this subsequently legendary work.

 

Our highly successful performance was repeated two days later in the University’s Hertz Hall. Unfortunately, no one had checked out the reception. In the event, the steel and concrete structure proved to be an impenetrable barrier to radio waves, producing an extended aleatory performance of Cage's silent 4’33” You're listening to a commercially recorded performance of that work at this very moment

Three years later KPFA was to take over my life. In 1965, when I had become Production Director, I assembled Charles Shere's KPFA program, John Cage Considered. The KPFA Folio program note read as follows:

John Cage Considered: An Introduction

A tentative introduction and preliminary remarks about the music, aesthetics, and phenomenon of John Cage. Recorded in 1965 this program contains the comments of Charles Shere on the life and music of the most famous of American avant-garde composers. The program, (which relies on a 1964 New Yorker article about Cage, a catalogue of his works published by Peters Edition, and Cage’s own book of essays “Silence”, for its background information), starts with a description of Cage’s early education and career as a lecturer on modern art. Shere then goes on to play excerpts from a number of Cage’s early compositions in order to illustrate Cage’s evolution from a student of Schoenberg to a composer experimenting with new sounds and techniques. By 1951 Cage had begun to become interested in Zen Buddhism and the role of chance operations in composition, two ideas that would influence all his later works. Shere plays a recording of the premiere performance of Cage’s “Imaginary Landscape No. 4” scored for 12 radios. This performance, which relies completely on chance operations for its structure, was given at Columbia University on May 1, 1951 and shocked the musical world, thus setting Cage firmly upon the road to becoming the most controversial composer of his generation. New York Times music critic, Virgil Thomson famously suggested that future performances of the piece never be done before a paying audience.

You can listen to the program HERE.

Imaginary Landscape No.4's first performance had taken place at the McMillan Theater, Columbia University, on May 2, 1951, and was conducted by the composer, in full dress. (How many times in his career did this happen?!) The radios used were not tinny little portables, as in many later performances including the one in which I participated. They were RCA 'Golden Throats' [left] with the deep-throated presence that only a wooden speaker enclosure can provide. Cage saw them in a shop window and, persuasive as ever, got the manager to lend him 12 for the premiere. The process of the work's composition is described in his seminal essay collection, Silence.

 

We know from earwitness reports that the public performance took place at the end of a long concert, well after midnight. By then many stations had gone off the air, and so the sonic texture is rather minimalist, though not a mere mime show like the Hertz Hall performance. During the rehearsal earlier in the day there had been a lot more going on. In the early 60s I had acquired second-generation recordings of both the rehearsal and the performance on 78 RPM discs, apparently transcribed directly from the originals at a New York studio. It was these recordings that were used in Charles Shere's broadcast.


After one of his London appearances in the early 1980s, John Cage autographed my copy of his Notations. It was a double signature, which, he told me, made it a composition. Might I perform it? I asked. Certainly! he said.

Subsequently the sound poet Bob Cobbing photocopied it and transformed it through successive stages in his usual fashion. Shortly thereafter Oral Complex did indeed perform the transformed signature at a concert near Oxford organized by James Wood.

 

CAGE ON CAGE

John Cage/Bob Cobbing

 

Performed by Oral Complex

   Bob Cobbing/Clive Fencott, sounds

   John Whiting, sound projection

 

Lady Lodge Arts Centre, Peterboro

26 April 1986

 

THIS is a recording of that performance.


During the Warsaw Festival of contemporary music In 1985, John Cage was present at an Electric Phoenic concert that I was mixing. He was so delighted by the howl of feedback which I randomly produced at the end when my kimono sleeve caught on the master fader that he subsequently agreed to write us a piece. The result, which appeared in 1988, was Four Solos for Voice (official title, Solos for voice 93-96). On June 19th he came to my studio [right] for an afternoon's rehearsal which I recorded and Daryl Runswick subsequently transcribed. (The text is HERE.)

 

Daryl later delivered a paper on his experiences with Cage which caused enormous indignation on the part of various Cageans whose careers were locked into their various intergretations of the master's words, which were often deliberately Zen Koan-like in their ambiguity. Both the teapot and the subsequent tempest are set out HERE. Daryl includes an intriguing page from the score of his own part:

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One of the infinite number of possible performances may be heard HERE.                    


One of my fellow dial-twiddlers in Imaginary Landscape No.4 in 1959 was the glamorous Carol Lienhard. On August 8, 2009 I got an e-mail from her telling me that the work was to be performed that very evening in the Tate Gallery, London. I dropped everything and hurried along, camcorder in pocket, arriving in time for the second performance (see below). The director proved to be Robert Worby, with whom I had worked many years before on an Electric Phoenix project. (It was his  article in the Guardian that Carol had forwarded to me.) They strove nobly against an ambient noise level so high as to reduce most of the sonic output to a relative ppp.

 

Later he e-mailed me an mp3 of the first performance, which, it developed, was from my own copy which he had extracted via the radiOM internet archive from Charles Shere's KPFA program of forty years before. Six Degrees of Separation, reduced to one.  

 

 

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