John Cage at 100

The great composer, musician, writer and philosopher John Cage was born on September 5, 1912 — and John Cage centennial events have been happening around the world throughout the year. The John Cage Trust has been presenting the John Cage: 2012 Centennial series of programs, and a calendar of events on the John Cage Trust’s website shows the astonishing number of Cage celebrations that are happening this year.

What follows is a list piece about one of my favorite artists and American originals. These aren’t really 100 candles, and this isn’t really a birthday cake. There are a few spaces below…some silence (which can’t really be articulated in a blog post!).

  1. When John Milton Cage, Jr. was almost a year old, his father broke the world’s record for a submarine trip. By a dozen hours. The Los Angeles Times‘ front page headline read, “Comes Up Famous.”
  2. John Cage and Merce Cunningham met at the Cornish College for the Arts (Seattle, 1938). Cunningham was a student at the time. Cunningham and Cage became life partners, forging new directions in dance and music together and independently.
  3.  Three Songs for Voice and Piano (1932)
  4. Quartet (1935), for “any percussion instruments”
  5. Chicago based musician and composer Christopher Preissing has presented John Cage’s Musicircus in Chicago several times. I participated in the 2005 Musicircus when it was at the Museum of Contemporary Art, in a trio with Jayve Montgomery and Joel Wanek. Members of the public joined in — and the event brought to life Cage’s statement, “You won’t hear a thing. You’ll hear eveything,” with sounds emanating from every one of the MCA’s floors as well as from the outside (even when it started to rain, with the afternoon urban din intermingling).
  6. John Cage Meets Sun Ra was recorded during a concert that those two geniuses performed — at Coney Island’s Sideshows by the Seashore on June 8, 1986. Wouldn’t it be great to have attended that concert, and then to have eavesdropped on the conversation that Ra and Cage had after the concert.
  7. Marshall McLuhan (7/21/1911-12/31/1980). “I think the ideas of both Buckminster Fuller and of Marshall McLuhan about the world as a single place are essential to the possibility of our solving problems now. And will always be at the basis of a good life, if we have one, on this earth.” — John Cage
  8. Cage composed Eight (for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, tenor trombone and tuba) in 1991.
  9. Cage was born on September 5, 2012. Global ‘4’33” (facilitated by the World Listening Project) happens on September 5, and other Cage celebrations are happening that Centenary birthday.
  10. Henry Cowell (3/11/1897). Cage studied with Cowell in 1933. It would be great to go to the New York Public Library, to read some of the Henry Cowell papers there.
  11. Imaginary Landscapes No. 4 — for 12 radios, 24 musicians and a conductor
  12. Chop Suey Books is at 2913 West Cary Street in Richmond, VA. Drummer and composer Brian Jones has curated several annual incarnations of Cage’s Musicircus — such as the 2009 Musicircus at Chop Suey Books.
  13. Fourteen (1990) — piano solo, flute/piccolo, bass flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, horn, trumpet, 2 percussionists, 2 violins, viola, cello and double bass
  14. Sixteen Dances (for Soloist and Company of 3) (1951)
  15. Cage spent 18 months in Europe, after dropping out of Pomona College.
  16. Music for Piano 4-19 (1953) — for any number of pianos
  17. Music for Piano 20 (1953). Duration: indeterminate.
  18. The composer, musician and producer John Cale was 21 when he performed Vexations by Erik Satie. Cale said, “Between 9 and 10 September 1963 I was one of a relay team of pianists, under the direction of John Cage, who played Vexations by Erik Satie at Pocket Theatre, 100 Third Avenue near 13th Street, in 18 hours and 40 minutes. The 180 notes of this 80-second work were played 840 times. The whole thing was John Cage’s idea. The admission was $5, but members of the audience got a refund of five cents per twenty minutes, and those who stayed to the bitter end got a 20 cent bonus.”
  19. V: 22nd letter in the alphabet. Cage’s Variations V was performed during the John Cage Festival(Chicago, April 2012) — with Julia Miller, James Connolly,  Eric Leonardson,  Christopher Preissing, Alex Inglizian, Kyle Evans, Gregory O’Drobinak, Tatso Aoki, Enid Smith, Melissa Schleicher-Sanchez and Jaime Juravic.
  20. Twenty-Three (1988) — 13 violins, 5 violas, 5 cellos
  21. The Bhakti Center is at 25 1st Avenue, New York, NY 10003. Gen Ken Montgomery is participating in Global 4’33”, in a performance that happens at The Bhakti Center (9 a.m. on 9/5/2012).
  22. Twenty-Six was a composition Cage created for 26 violins.
  23. 27’10.554″ For a Percussionist (1956)
  24. Twenty-Six can be performed with Twenty-Eight and/or
  25. Twenty-Nine.
  26. Thirty Pieces for String Quartet (1983)
  27. First Chapter of Ecclesiastes: The Preacher (1932)
  28. Cage moved to New York City in 1933. Soon thereafter he moved to California where he began studying with Arnold Schoenberg.
  29. 34’46.776″ For a Pianist (1954) — composition for prepared piano
  30. Limerick, Ireland (52° 36′ 2.92″N, 8° 58′ 15.30″W). Softday is performing 4’33” in Limerick on 9/5/2012.
  31. Music for Piano 21-36; 37-52 (1955)
  32. John Cage invented the prepared piano at Cornish College of the Arts in 1938. He was an accompanist and composer in the dance department at the time.
  33. A performance of Cage’s As Slow As Possible began in 2003 — in Halberstadt, Germany. ASAP is to be performed on a pipe organ, and an organ at St. Burchard Church was chosen as the instrument upon which ASAP is performed. ASAP takes 639 years to perform.
  34. Imaginary Landscape No.2 (1940) –“records of constant and variable frequency, string piano and percussion (i.e. 4 players).”
  35. Istanbul (41.0128° N, 28.9744° E). Gürkan Mıhçı is presenting a performance of 4’33” in Istanbul on 9/5/2012.
  36. Imaginary Landscapes No. 5 (1952) — “Score for making a recording on tape, using as material any 42 phonographic records.”
  37. Eric Glick Rieman is a dynamic composer and musical instrument builder who lives in Berkeley, CA. Rieman and I have worked on a number of artistic projects over more than a decade. One of Rieman’s influences is Cage; he has performed on the prepared piano a number of times. One of the musical instruments that Rieman has created is the prepared Rhodes electric piano. One of that instrument’s unique features is the fact Rieman sawed it in half; it has 43 keys (homage to Harry Partch).
  38. Ophelia (1946)
  39. Toronto (43°42′59.72″N, 79°20′26.47″W). David Sánchez de Mingo is performing 4’33” on 9/5/2012.
  40. If I could time travel, one of my top destinations would be Black Mountain College in 1948, to watch a production of The Ruse of Medusa by Erik Satie. when Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Irving Penn & others performed in the production.
  41. 49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs (1977) — “Instrumentation: for performer(s) or listener(s) or record maker(s). Duration:  indeterminate.”
  42. 50 states, 100 senators, 430+ representatives in the House of Representatives, one President, etc. If politicians performed 4’33”, would it help them to listen more open-mindedly and deeply? (Pondering the impossible…)
  43. 4’33” was premiered in Woodstock, NY on August 29, 1952. David Tudor performed the iconic composition. Some audience members became irritated and angry and left the performance. (They couldn’t sit through four and a half minutes of listening / silence?)
  44. Robert Rauschenberg and John Cage created Automobile Tire Print in 1953. Rauschenberg likened it to a Tibetan prayer wheel.
  45. “In  1954, when  I  went  to  Europe, I  no  sooner  arrived  in  Paris than I noticed  that  the  city  was  covered  with posters publicizing  a  mushroom  exhibition
    that  was  being  held  in  the  Botanical  Gardens.”
  46. Walker Art Center (1750 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55403. A performance of 4’33” happens at the Walker on 9/5/2012.
  47. A Dip in the Lake: Ten Quicksteps, Sixty-two Waltzes, and Fifty-six Marches for Chicago and Vicinity (1978)
  48. 57½” For a String Player (1953)
  49. Haiku (1958) — “any kind of sound production”
  50. Cage taught “Mushroom Identification” and other courses at the New School of Social Research. In 1959 Cage was a contestant on Lascia o Raddoppia (Double or Nothing), an Italian quiz show, and he expertly answered questions about mycology on five of Lascia o Raddoppia‘s episodes.
  51. Have you seen Cage perform hisWater Walk on I’ve Got a Secret (1960)? I wonder if that was before or after Nam June Paik’s performance of Etude for Pianoforte at the artist Mary Bauermeister’s studio, during which Paik “jumping up in the middle of the piece and cutting off John Cage’s tie with scissors.”
  52. Silence: Lectures and Writings (Middleton: Wesleyan University Press, 1961)
  53. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published a year after Cage’s Silence was published. Coincidence? With the Zeitgeist of the late ’50s-early ’60s, I wonder…the Cold War, questions about the wisdom of humanity’s unchecked embrace of new technology (including chemicals, weapons, and so on). Curious. Don’t know if Cage and Carson ever met or corresponded, but they were both geniuses whose visions continue to influence our world.
  54. Marfa, Texas (N 30.311863, W 104.024779). A community performance of 4’33” happens at the Marfa Book Company on 9/5/2012.
  55. Yoko Ono met Cage in New York City in mid-50s. She performed her “Cut Piece” in 1965 (a year before she met John Lennon).
  56. Cage worked with fellow artists Robert Rauschenberg, David Tudor, Merce Cunningham and others, as well as engineers from Bell Laboratories — in what culminated as 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering (1966). With 10 artists and 30 engineers and scientists.
  57. Ipoh, Malaysia (5.0000° N, 101.1167° E). Kamal Sabran is presenting a performance of 4’33” in Ipoh, on 9/5/2012.
  58. Glenrothes, Fife, Scotland (56.1986803°, -3.1574142°). Students in the Sound Production program at Adam Smith College are performing 4’33” on 9/5/2012.
  59. Mewantemooseicday (1969) — “Event for speakers, singers, pianos, orchestra, record-players and public.”
  60. The Beatles 1962-1970 — for Aki Takahashi
  61. Les chants de Maldoror pulvérises par l’assistance même (1971) — “Instrumentation: 200 pages pour un public francophone de pas plus de 200 personnes (200 pages for a francophone public of not more than 200 persons)”
  62. Seventy-Four (1992) — “Orchestra of 74 musicians: 3333 – 4331, 2 pianos, 2 percussionists, harp and strings (14-10-8-8-6)”
  63. Apartment House 1776 (1976)
  64. Roaratorio: An Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake (1979)
  65. The wonderful composer Pauline Oliveros turned 80 earlier this year. She was awarded the John Cage Award in January. Congratulations, Pauline!
  66. Thomas More College (latitude: N 39° 1′ 26.544″, longitude:W 84° 34′ 4.8864″.Students in Jerome Langguth‘s Philosophy of Music class at Thomas More College are participating in Global 4’33”.
  67. Terry Gross interviewed John Cage on her Fresh Air program (9/2/1985). “”We almost have an instinct to be annoyed by a burglar alarm, but as I pay attention to them, they are curiously, slightly varying,” he said in the interview.
  68. Marcel Duchamp (7/28/1887-10/2/1968). Duchamp was one of Cage’s biggest influences. Cage on playing chess with Duchamp: “I was using chess as a pretext to be with him. I didn’t learn, unfortunately, while he was alive to play well…”
  69. Cage is known as a musician, composer, philosopher, educator, a multidisciplinary genius and pioneer. The instrument that he’s most closely associated with is the piano, with its 88 keys (not to mention the piano’s inside, with all those strings that can be prepared and played).
  70. The wonderful musician, composer and educator Stephen Rush teaches at the University of Michigan. I took a music improvisation class from him when I was an undergrad at U-M. In 1989 I heard Rush perform some Cage compositions on piano. The concert blew my mind; it was the first time I’d heard Cage compositions performed live.
  71. John Cage passed away 20 years ago, after having led an amazing life. He died on August 12, 1992 — less than a month shy of his 80nd birthday.
  72. The great poet Jackson Mac Low met Cage in New York City; he was his a student of his at the New School of Social Research. Jackson Mac Low and Anne Tardos created the audio piece “Phoneme Dance in Memoriam John Cage” a year after his passing.
  73. ABC’s Into The Music (GPO Box 9994, Sydney NSW 200). ABC CAGE 100!
  74. Buckminster Fuller was born on July 12, 1895. Fuller inspired Cage, and the two taught at Black Mountain College in the late ’40s.
  75. 31’57.9864″ For a Pianist (1954)
  76. The dynamic composer Nomi Epstein directs, which presented a John Cage Festival earlier this year. Last year the Chicago Scratch Orchestra performed her For Cage99 with the CSO at the Green Mill, wonderful composition.
  77. And here we are, 3/4 into the John Cage centennial! Have you visited the John Cage: 2012 Centennial site yet?


Dan Godston teaches and lives in Chicago. His chapbooks include Splice Poems (Argotist Ebooks) and Sonic Textures Triptych (Linguiscope Books), and his writings have appeared in Chase Park, After Hours, Beard of Bees, Drunken Boat, Horse Less Review, Requited Journal, Sentinel Poetry, and other publications. He also directs the Borderbend Arts Collective.