Man is a bubble, and all the world is a storm. He kept it on a shelf in our family den, where for years when I was a kid it roared down at us -- unappeasably furious or so I always thought at being trapped up there on its high perch, with no company except some painted beer mugs and a set of purple glass swizzle sticks. Probably my brother and I were having a skirmish and a shot went wild.
Copyright by James Pritchett.
Originally we had in mind what you might call an imaginary beauty, a process of basic emptiness with just a few things arising in it. And then when we actually set to work, a kind of avalanche came about which corresponded not at all with that beauty which had seemed to appear to us as an objective.
Where do we go then? Well what we do is go straight on; that way lies, Dramatic essay string orchestra doubt, a revelation. I had no idea this was going to happen. I did have an idea something else would happen. Ideas are one thing and what happens another. And what are we doing? It was an unusual idea for a museum show, since the whole purpose for visiting one is to witness things of beauty or interest.
People do not go to a museum to look at blank walls, to walk through empty galleries. Without any context, visitors would have been quite baffled by this, perhaps thinking that they had taken a wrong turn, that someone made a mistake, or for those who like adventure that a daring theft had taken place.
But these visitors would have known that this is an exhibition about John Cage, and hence the empty room would make sense. It is not surprising that this piece would attract the kind of attention that it has.
To begin with, it is a compelling dramatic gesture. At its first performance, virtuoso pianist David Tudor sat at the piano, opened the keyboard lid, and sat silently for thirty seconds.
He then closed the lid. He reopened it, and then sat silently again for a full two minutes and twenty-three seconds. He then closed and reopened the lid one more time, sitting silently this time for one minute and forty seconds.
He then closed the lid and walked off stage. With the right kind of performer, such an event can be riveting, and Tudor was absolutely the right kind of performer, possessing an understated mastery of the instrument and a seriousness of purpose that was palpable to everyone in attendance.
Part of what makes the drama so compelling is the utter simplicity of the concept. The composer creates nothing at all.
The performer goes on stage and does nothing. The audience witnesses this very basic act, the act of sitting still and being quiet. All this takes place in a Western concert hall setting, lending a historical and artistic gravity to the proceedings that begs us to put this act into some kind of weighty context, fraught with importance.
The piece can be difficult for audiences just as the empty room in the exhibition might have been. Sitting quietly for any length of time is not something to which people are accustomed in Western culture in general, much less in a concert hall setting.
That tensions will arise, with controversy and notoriety following, is only natural. Confronted with the silence, in a setting we cannot control, and where we do not expect this kind of event, we might have any of a number of responses: What did Cage mean when he made this piece?
How are we supposed to take this music?
Noise — For someone traveling through the early parts of this exhibition, or for someone otherwise familiar only with the early works of John Cage, the appearance of the silent piece may be puzzling.
Indeed, Cage in his early days as a composer promoted the antithesis of silence: Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating. What is missing in this early essay, however, is the identification of silence as the underlying rationale for these positions.
What does appear here is a discussion of musical structure based on lengths of time: Many of his early compositions were accompaniments for modern dance, in which he was given precise measurements of phrases to which to compose his music.
His devotion to percussion music also contributed to his use of duration structures, since structures based on harmony or melody were unavailable to him. Although he was unaware of it at the time, this reliance on time as the basis for musical structure was one of the factors that would prepare Cage for his later encounter with silence.
Quiet — At the turn of the s, Cage was ambitious, with big ideas, big dreams, and a predilection for big sounds.Earliest string instruments. Dating to around c. 13, BC, a cave painting in the Trois Frères cave in France depicts what some believe is a musical bow, a hunting bow used as a single-stringed musical instrument.
From the musical bow, families of stringed instruments developed; since each string played a single note, adding strings added new notes, creating bow harps, harps and lyres. Instantly view and print thousands of legal sheet music titles — String Orchestra. Compelling stories, cutting-edge classical music, National Theater, literary events, comedy shows, film screenings and much more all at Symphony Space.
See what's on, and pick up a ticket. This essay was written for the catalog of the exhibition “John Cage and Experimental Art: The Anarchy of Silence” at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. Compelling stories, cutting-edge classical music, National Theater, literary events, comedy shows, film screenings and much more all at Symphony Space.
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