Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Goebbels stages John Cage Prom 47

Probably the biggest event this whole John Cage Centenary year!  Heiner Goebbels stages John Cage's Europeras 1 and 2 at the Ruhr Biennial. Read Shirley Apthorp in the Financial Times. 
Cage's Europeras 1 and 2  take fragments of numerous different operas and reprocesses them, much in the way that a kaliedoscope turns fragments of coloured glass into new patterns with new movement. "The paradox", says Apthorp, is that "Chaos only works if fastiduously structured".

Cage is important not so much for what he writes but why he writes. He challenges the very basis of creativity. Kaput to the idea of composer as auteur. Instead the idea of random chance, multiple stimuli which the listener must process in realtime, parameters like duration within which nothing is defined.  The onus is always on the moment and on the listener. In the I ching, you throw a coin and look up the runes in the Book of Changes. These suggest images, but it's up to the person interpreting them to use his other own intuition. Every person, every time a consultation is done, everything depends on how the interpreter can reach into his or her own psyche. It's not divination so much as spiritual and mental discipline.

Paradox again! Despite Cage's reticence, much of his music is exquisitely beautiful, when done well. Listen online to Exaudi doing ear for Ear Antiphonies and then Four (2). Though the sounds they make are so abstract, they feel primeval. Perhaps the echoes of medieval plainchant, projected into the cosmos?  Or even the feeling of sound moving around the perfomance space, creating "music" that isn't even made by the performers? It doesn't matter, as long as you're responding and listening on a deep level. I much prefered these ensemble pieces to Experience II (Joan La Barbara) precisely because they're wordless, and liberate your imagination.

Publicity about the cactuses is misleading because Cage's music isn't about gimmick or novelty. More than ever, this is music that challenges you to think, and gives back what you put in : the creative process turned on its head.  Personally I find Cage surprisingly relaxing, like zen meditation, but it's perfectly OK to be bored witless. But tomorrow it might be the other way round. Like the I Ching, the runes tell you about yourself at a specific time.

Cage is so utterly an original, there's almost no precedent. Learning the technique of composition doesn't make you a composer anymore than reading a wiki makes you Einstein. And Cage was a philosopher as much as a musican.  Listen to the broadcast (link above) because the commentary is very good indeed.  Read Ivan Hewett's review of Cage Day Prom 47 (Ilan Volkov) and my review of The London Sinfonietta Prom 44. 

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