On Cage On Cage On Cage (2012)

Excerpts from Electronic Chamber Music at University of Michigan’s 2012 final concert “On Cage On Cage On Cage,” which featured five new realizations of classic pieces by Cage (not all pictured here).

Imaginary Landscape No. 5 (1952), arranged by Michael Gurevich

The last of John Cage’s Imaginary Landscapes is a block-graph timeline score composed in 1952 that is normally interpreted as a template for constructing a tape piece. Cage specifies the source material to be “any 42 phonograph records,” from which fragments are selected and played with different loudness envelopes applied according to the score. Cage’s score is a kind of template, a timeline inscribed on graph paper, with each graph unit corresponding to 3 inches of tape (0.2 seconds at 15 in/s). Outlined blocks on 8 parallel tracks indicate when records should sound; numbers below these blocks indicate dynamic changes; dots above indicate when the records should be changed. All temporal and dynamic features of the piece were determined by chance from the I-Ching.

Although many segments contain dynamic contours, Cage does not manipulate amplitude envelopes of the source material by specifying the shapes of tape splices as he did in Williams Mix, composed later the same year. The effect is a composition rather more choppy than the more sophisticated Williams Mix, but also one more sonically coherent – all the source material in Imaginary Landscape No. 5 comes from existing music on records.

The score specifies up to 8 simultaneous tracks, which are to be mixed to mono or stereo tape. The score also indicated precise times at which the record on each track is to be changed. Cage realized the first tape version for performance with Jean Erdman’s dance Portrait of a Lady using exclusively jazz records, in part as a sort of “immersion therapy” to overcome his distaste for jazz.

Our realization (DJ Version) introduces live real-time performance to this piece by translating the cues and loudness envelopes from the score into software. The program then applies the cues and envelopes to 8 live audio streams, each representing one track of the score. The live streams were from 8 record players; the performers’ role was quite literally that of a disc-jockey: to stop, start and change the records at precise times specified by the score. Since some of the record-changes in the score are instantaneous, I extensively reworked the distribution of segments to the 8 tracks in order to preserve the precise timing and changes of the original.

Excerpts from rehearsal:

Speech (1955), for news reader and 5 radios
Less well known than Cage’s earlier composition for 12 radios Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (March No. 2), Speech similarly makes use of the unknowable soundscape of the radio broadcast spectrum. Performers are given timings for tuning and switching on and off their radios, as well as expressive dynamic markings. Speech plays with ephemerality and uncertainty on many scales. The tuning of the radios is not absolute; even two simultaneous performances would sound radically different. The news reader is instructed to read from two publications (newspapers or magazines), which, like the radios, give differing accounts of the same moment in time, only zoomed out to the scale of the day, the week or the month. Yet Speech also has a large-scale form that unfolds over years and decades. Even if we can’t recognize the precise words or tunes being broadcast at a given moment, the character of the cumulative broadcast background evolves over time as a reflection of the society that generates it.

Steps (2012) by Zachary Lizzio and Michael McGraw
An event score in the spirit of Fluxus, Steps was premiered at the UMMA Student Late Night on March 30, 2012. Like many Fluxus events, Steps may be seen not as a composition in itself, but as a set of instructions for creating a new artwork. Tonight’s performance is in this sense a new piece that realizes two Fluxus events: Steps and La Monte Young’s Composition 1960 No. 10. Young’s instruction, “Draw a straight line and follow it,” was famously realized by Nam June Paik in 1962 as Zen for Head, in which Paik dipped his head in ink and tomato juice and dragged it across a long sheet of paper. Steps will be performed simultaneously with Cage’s Speech.

Fontana Mix (1958), arranged by Christopher Mathews
The score for Fontana Mix consists of a set of sheets of paper with curved lines of different thickness, and separate set of transparencies bearing dots, a grid and straight lines. Cage provides instructions for overlaying the transparencies on top of the pages to generate a structure for ordering events in time. Cage and others, including Cornelius Cardew and Max Neuhaus, used this material to generate a number of compositions, the first being Cage’s tape piece of the same name realized in Milan in 1959.

Chris Mathews’ arrangement is for vacuum cleaners, inspired in part by the sound of compulsively cleanly upstairs neighbors. The Fontana Mix score was used to generate changes in floor surface, vacuum cleaner settings and motion intensity for 5 performers, as well as the selection and timing of debris deposited on different platforms. The two remaining parts specify volume and equalization envelopes applied to the sound captured from each platform by a contact microphone. The audience hears the resulting processed stereo mix from the performance in the adjacent room.

Rozart Mix (1965)

John Cage composed Rozart Mix in 1965. Cage’s score consists of a series of correspondences with Alvin Lucier, in which the two devise a performance to take place at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University. The ultimate specification of the performance consists of at least 4 open-reel tape machines with at least 88 tape loops. Each loop is played until it breaks, with an attendant at each tape player removing, repairing and replacing the loops. The performance continues until all the loops are broken beyond repair or the audience leaves the venue. In his conversation with Kostelanetz, Cage describes serving refreshments when just 12 people remained.

My realization is for 4 performers, each with a battery-powered cassette player (“boom box”), plus 2 loop attendants, who distribute 44 double-sided cassette tape loops to the 4 performers. The cassette tape loops are made by the performers in advance using found sounds. Each boom box is equipped with a custom-made device that periodically interrupts the power to the cassette player, simulating the effect of a loop breaking. The period of interruptions is randomly selected from with a range, giving control over the approximate total duration of the piece.

The performers are spaced at the four corners of the performance environment. In a conventional concert hall, two would be on stage and two behind the audience. The cassette tapes are placed on a table in the center of the hall. Throughout the performance, including at the beginning, performers raise their hand when they need a new tape. Tapes are then delivered by an attendant. The performer plays one side of a tape until it breaks or until the power-interrupting device stops it. If the tape is not broken, the performer then turns the tape over and resets the power-interrupting device. Once both sides of the tape are played and “broken,” the performer raises their hand to signal an attendant to deliver a new tape. The performance lasts until all tapes have been played. This duration can be calibrated by adjusting the range of the period of interruptions.

This realization of Rozart Mix was performed three times in 2012: at the University of Michigan Museum of Art as a part of the exhibit Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life; at the University of Michigan Electronic Chamber Music Ensemble’s concert On Cage On Cage On Cage; and in Cali, Colombia at the Diseño+ conference. It was also performed as a “dinner theater” version (as Cage did several times) during the NIME 2014 banquet, simultaneously with Cage’s Radio Music.

Due to the spatial distribution of the performers, video documentation of the performance is not very effective. A video demonstration of the loop making process and performance technologies is available here:

0’00” (1962)
Dedicated to Toshi Ichiyanagi and Yoko Ono, 0’00” instructs the performer to “perform a disciplined action” under “maximum amplification (no feedback).” Performed simultaneously with Rozart Mix.