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‘Dance 4/Orchestras’ (1982) performed by the New World Symphony in 2013 (courtesy New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy)

Launched yesterday, a free online archive of John Cage performances presents a comprehensive overview of his career, from a watering can poured on national television to a rhythmic solo piano performance inspired by lost love. Making the Right Choices: A John Cage Celebration is a digital resource based on New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy’s 2013 festival in honor of the 100th anniversary of the late avant-garde composer’s birth.

Landing page for ‘Making the Right Choices: A John Cage Celebration’ (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

Making the Right Choices, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, features video and audio from the 2013 performances in Miami Beach, including some familiar and some obscure pieces from his influential and experimental career of both music and staged silenceSixteen Dances (1950–51) is accompanied by rarely-seen Merce Cunningham choreography, while Water Walk (1959) — which Cage performed with a water pitcher and other objects on the CBS game show I’ve Got a Secret, infiltrating national television with 10 minutes of avant-garde music — combines footage of the 2013 performance and archival video. Over 25 behind-the-scenes videos reveal the process of recreating pieces like The Perilous Night (1944), composed in six movements when Cage was working through a separation from his wife, where New World Symphony associate dean and director of chamber music Michael Linville prepares the piano prior to the performance with nuts and bolts, bamboo, rubber, and other materials placed around the strings and dampers. Links to the John Cage Trust provide additional context for each piece.

In his 1948 “Composer’s Confession” address at Vassar College, included in the archive, Cage said: “The significance of new materials is that they represent, I believe, the incessant desire in our culture to explore the unknown. Before we know the unknown, it inflames our hearts.” Additional videos will continue to be added to the online collection over the coming months, creating one of the most comprehensive archives on Cage’s compositions available to the public to explore the myriad ways he embraced new materials and musical forms.

Performance of ‘Water Walk’ (1959) on ‘Making the Right Choices: A John Cage Celebration’ (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

Image gallery from performances on ‘Making the Right Choices: A John Cage Celebration’ (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

Access Making the Right Choices: A John Cage Celebration online through New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy.

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...