Sometime during the late summer of 2016, I was spending a lazy Sunday afternoon listening to music. On this specific occasion, one of the CDs that I was playing was called Fifty-Eight by the American composer John Cage. As I scanned the liner notes of the disc, it suddenly occurred to me that 2017 would mark the 25th anniversary of Cage’s death in August of 1992. This made me reflect upon how the words and music of John Cage made their way into my life.
Back in the early 1970s, I found myself gaining an interest in avant-garde music of the contemporary classical variety. I was still living in Windsor at the time and would spend a great deal of time at the downtown main branch of the public library. It was there that I delved into books about this genre of music and could also borrow LPs from the library collection.
After reading a number of books, the one name that seemed to crop up more than any other was that of John Cage. His way of composing involved processes which likely sounded pretty crazy to many listeners of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.
Cage would experiment with putting bits and bobs between the strings of a piano in an effort to completely change the sound which it produced. This became known as “prepared piano.” He also composed percussion works for ensembles which included such items as automobile brake drums.
He used the I Ching as well as maps of constellations in order to explore new and different ways to create compositions. He also found much of interest in using chance operations and indeterminacy. These parameters could create a new sounding work each time that a composition was performed. Some works could also be performed by superimposing one composition on top of another for an even greater end result.
By 1980, I had purchased my first synthesizer and used it to create abstract sounds and compositions which no doubt owed some debt to John Cage among many other contemporary composers.
So, in 2016, I had the idea to create an event which would celebrate John Cage in a novel manner. Instead of simply arranging to have people perform his works, I wanted to present an example of how, some 25 years after his passing, his ideas and sounds continue to be an influence on composers and performers into the 21st century.
With this idea in mind, I approached Museum London to see if they would be interested in helping to present this performance to the public. I was very pleased to hear of their enthusiastic support for the idea. And now, almost 25 years to the day (he actually passed away August 12, 1992), we plan to celebrate the ongoing influence of Cage’s work.
The evening will feature three performances of new works. Timothy Glasgow will create sounds using a modular synthesizer setup. This assemblage of electronic modules is especially interesting in that the results of turning a small dial or flipping a switch can reveal unintentional and surprising sounds. This is an excellent example of Cage’s approach to randomness and indeterminacy.
Alex Schmoll and Angie Quick will present another take on Cage. For their contribution, Alex will create a backdrop of synthetic sounds while Angie reads extracts from Cage’s numerous writings. The snippets of the writings will be arranged in a random manner in order to create a unique presentation.
The evening will conclude with a performance by the Transmorphous Sound Ensemble which consists of myself along with Richard Moule. For our contribution entitled 1+1 4 JC, I will utilize a prepared table-top guitar setup while Richard will use a prepared violin. This will be accompanied by a new video work which I have created specifically for this event.
In keeping with the idea of a 25th anniversary, each performance is set to clock in at 25 minutes.
Ocean of Silence: A Tribute to John Cage
Transmorphous Sound Ensemble
Alex Schmoll & Angie Quick
Thursday, August 24, 7:00 PM
$10 advance / $15 door
(advance tickets available @ museumlondon.ca)
Museum London, 421 Ridout St., London, Ontario, Canada (519-661-0333)