The Current Status of John Cage
Sogetsu Art Center Journal
John Cage is recognized as the most uniquely talented American avant-garde musician. Last year, during Cage’s concert (?) [sic] tour of Europe, I attended a performance at Galerie 22, an avant-garde gallery in Düsseldorf, Germany, of a strange dissonant work using his trademark technique of inserting pieces of wood between the piano strings.
One Sunday in New York, I also heard a piano composition titled Winter Music at a place called the Village Gate, an underground bar in Greenwich Village. It was performed along with Poème électronique, a tape piece that Edgar Varèse made for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. Winter Music is another odd work that one might say focuses on the pleasure of sound, including the spaces between sounds and silence. The performer would tap the piano strings with a wooden mallet and then stop. Then he would use a key to make a twang and let the sound die down. As things continued in a similar vein, it was strange to watch New Yorkers in the bustling jazz metropolis enjoying these huge gaps in sound. The composition was dedicated to Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. These two artists have recently come to be called Neo-Dadaists. The former coldly depicts almost nothing but American flags and numbers in beeswax, while the latter makes daring assemblages consisting of things like a stuffed goat with a tire around it.
The relationship between Johns, Rauschenberg, and Cage is oddly (?) [sic] close, and there is a fundamental affinity in this new field between Cage’s unusual scores that resemble abstract paintings and Johns’s number series. In addition, according to a recent letter, the two artists are apparently designing the stage sets for a modern ballet with music by Cage. The two records Cage has released have also proved to be popular. One is from a concert at Town Hall last year that included all of his works from the last twenty-five years, and the other, titled Indeterminacy: New Aspects of Form in Instrumental and Electronic Music, contains a lengthy recitation of ninety humorous stories accompanied by music. On another occasion, Cage brought a bathtub, toaster, motor, piano, and a goldfish bowl into a TV studio and performed a bizarre brand of concrete music for half an hour, leaving the veteran host amazed and dumbfounded.
Originally published in Sogetsu Art Center Journal 2, April 1960. Translated into English by Christopher Stephens