Tuesday, November 23, 2010

John Cage on Silence

Marjorie Perloff on Cage and Cunningham: Constructed Anarchy. A bit from the article gives us the keystone to the concept of structured openness, structured performance in which the performers make as many or more decisions as the composer:

When in June 2010 I had the chance to see Roaratorio performed at the Disney Concert Hall—a beautiful Roaratorio but no longer graced by the presence on stage of Merce or by the actual speaking voice of John Cage—what seemed especially remarkable was the tight formal structure of a composition once billed (both in its radio and dance incarnations) as an anarchic Irish Circus, bursting with random sounds and unforeseen events. For, however differential the leg, arm, and torso movements of the individual dancers (sometimes in pairs or threes, sometimes alone), all are metonymically related in a network of family resemblances, and all are, as the charts show, mathematically organized. Yet wasn’t it Cage who defined his music as “purposeless play”—“not an attempt to bring order out of chaos . . . but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and one’s desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord”? And wasn’t it Cunningham who insisted that dance “is not meant to represent something else, whether psychological, literary, or aesthetic. It relates much more to everyday experience, daily life, watching people as they move in the streets”?

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I suppose I’m much the same. I don’t need music or dance to mean something even a piece of programme music like Malcolm Arnold’s Tam O’Shanter or Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel. That they do is an added bonus if you like. Words are different, at least for me. I do accept that it’s human nature to try to make sense of out chaos but I can enjoy chaos. The piece I’m listening to just now, Girare for percussion and tape, (by the Polish composer Anna Zawadzka-Golosz) is pretty chaotic but I have no problems with it. I treat music like this as I would a car journey – you have no idea what you’re going to see out the window next; sometimes the transitions are gradual, sometimes they are radical.

5:36 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Like you, I have no problems with a wide range of music; you expressed it better than I can at the moment, thanks for that.

"Going along the ride" is how I approach a poem or novel, too, as well as music. I've always seen benefit in keeping an open mind on the journey, and waiting to see what happens. I find my choosiness comes before I set out on the journey, if by skimming a book in the store I decide whether or not to invest any time in it at all. I do find that most contemporary mainstream "literary" fiction to be a journey I have little interest in taking, as the terrain is already too well mapped, and there isn't much fresh to discover in it.

I've recently found a von Karajan conducted version of Beethoven's Ninth on CD, one of those anniversary re-issues, and I've been listening to it a lot lately. Along with the three-CD set of Copland I found recently conducted by Tilson Thomas.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I’ve been a great fan of Copland since I was a teenager. I probably own a copy of every major work by him and I’ve heard lots of versions of the big players like Appalachian Spring and Billy the Kid. The first piece I ever heard by him was on a compilation album, it was ‘Hoedown’ from Rodeo - just blew me away. No idea who the conductor was but I’d guess someone like Bernstein who knew how to get an orchestra to gee-up.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was never my favourite. The trouble is I’ve heard the rest so many times. I think I own four different versions of his Fifth. The Sixth I sickened myself of when I was a kid. I had a copy on reel to reel and played it over and over again. My favourites are probably the Eighth and Seventh in that order.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I prefer the full ballet of Appalchian Spring to the suite Copland later made for orchestral concerts; although the suite is great, and one of his most popular works, I like the arc of the the music and story in the complete ballet. I can't remember the first time I heard Rodeo, it's been so long.

Beethoven's Sixth and Nonth havae always been my favorites. When I was going through my own teenage sort of Young Werther phase, overly Romantic and ridiculously aesthetic, I was obsessed with the Ninth for awhile. I suppose I burned myself out on it for a while, as after that I was into Debussy, then Satie, and the rest of the non-Romantic Moderns. But a great performance like von Karajan's here can draw me back to the Ninth, to listen and hear things in it.

Bernstein in his six Norton lectures, published as "The Unanswered Question," does a really wonderful history and analysis of the Sixth. I didn't know, for example, that he was writing the Fifth and Sixth pretty much at the same time. A lot of people take the Sixth to be pure program music, like Berlioz, which wasn't Beethoven's intention. He wasn't making a narrative there, he was painting impressions.

9:29 AM  

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