“He is probably the most controversial figure in the musical world today and when you hear his performance, if you will forgive me, you’ll understand why,” says the talk show host in the 1960 clip of I’ve Got a Secret. He’s speaking of John Cage, who by then was highly successful for his difficult music. And Cage was firm on the point of making music — when the host announces that Cage teaches “a course on experimental sound at the New School,” Cage is quick to correct him.
“I consider music the production of sound, and since in the piece which you will hear I produce sound, I will call it music,” Cage says placidly with a subtle smile that never fades throughout his performance of “Water Walk.”
It wasn’t the first time Cage had been on a game show — in 1959, in Milan, he was a guest on Lascia o Raddoppia? where he answered esoteric questions on various species of mushrooms (which was his subject of choice). In I’ve Got a Secret, the ostensible aim is to reveal its contestant’s “secrets,” which for Cage means his instruments: an iron pipe, a goose call, a bottle of wine, a vase of roses. In a typically Cageian manner, he announces he will make music out of seemingly unmusical objects. The piece, he explains, is called “Water Walk” “because it contains water and because I walk during the performance.”
Before the performance, the host assures the audience that it’s fine to laugh, perhaps even encouraging it. “These are nice people, but some of them are going to laugh. Is that alright?” he addresses Cage. In his soft voice, Cage answers, “Of course. I consider laughter preferable to tears.”
What ensues reminds me of being at the theater when audience members laugh at awkward or taboo scenes as a way, I think, of coping with an uncomfortable experience that wasn’t intentionally funny. Hysterical laughs follow the clunk of ice cubes in a cup; the gulp of water entering a jug; and the slam of radios falling onto the floor. Cage repeats the same actions in a willful, structured manner, though the order of sounds — which over time echo and sit in the air — is never predictable.
The audience’s flippant reaction is at odds with what we normally think of Cage — there is a certain seriousness attached to his work. Yet watching Cage onstage it’s clear he had a sense of humor or that at least he was unfazed by others. At one point, the host reads a review in the New York Herald Tribune of Cage’s then-recent album: “Certain compositions of his are really a delight to the ear. This is something that cannot be said of quite a few other Cage items.” Cage, in response, gives a wide, lighthearted smile.
Working with what they had, Cass Corridor artists scrapped and repurposed anything they could get their hands on, attempting to find some salvation for their city through a literal process of salvage and reuse.
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Featuring underwater recordings from around the world, this immersive, site-specific installation is on view at the Lenfest Center for the Arts in NYC from February 3 to 13.
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The close, careful, and subtle observation I found this year is representative of precisely why I continue to gravitate to this fair.
BRIC’s multidisciplinary program in Brooklyn has cohorts in Contemporary Art, Film & TV, Performing Arts, and Video Art. Applications are due March 10.
How do we counter stereotypes about Black mothers, while stressing the importance of memory, determination, love, and corporeality?
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As we begin a new year, a small moment on Queer Eye makes me think about the profound effect our stories can have on each other.
Some have criticized the racist monument’s planned relocation to North Dakota, near land seized from Indigenous people.
A group called the Boriken Libertarian Forces toppled the monument hours before King Felipe VI of Spain’s visit.