His 4’33” went beyond the sound of silence; his prepared piano pieces pushed dance beyond mere movement. He took Henry Cowell’s tone clusters and Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique, dosed them with Zen, and changed forever the way we hear and listen. He was composer extraordinaire John Cage, an irascible American icon if ever there was one. This week subtropics, iSAW and the FETA Foundation present an unforgettable John Cage Centennial Celebration. Subtroopics’ own Gustavo Matamoros explains.
What compelled you to tackle such an icon as John Cage?John Cage has had tremendous influence on me as a young composer and now as a sound artist. I met him several times over the years and presented him in Miami as part of the third Subtropics Experimental Music Festival in 1991 — one year before his death. Last year, the John Cage Trust invited us to organize something in celebration of John's Centennial. A young composer, Juraj Kojs, also wanted to organize some concerts and we decided to combine our otherwise separate events into more of a festival context. As you can tell, there are many reasons for me to tackle this.
How exactly has his work influenced you (and/or your own work) over the years? John's influenced the way I think about sound, about music, and about being an artist. One significant attitude adjustment he suggested (and I, reluctantly at first, but then wholeheartedly embraced) was "to cultivate a bad memory." I took this seriously to mean: use your brain not as a storage bin, but as tool for creativity and for processing information. A whole lot of his ideas were themselves influenced by Zen.
Do you see a similar influencing on culture-at-large to this day? I believe Cage's own ideas — as well as those he championed — have certainly taken hold. Today we hear so many more kinds of sounds and combined in so many different ways than I can remember... proof that sounds do have a tendency to get along. All it is needed is for us to let them reveal their essence and to accept them for what they are. Judging from the musical preferences of my students of critical listening, I have to say, this is taking hold.
Which brings us to the Centennial Celebration...
Who (and what) is on tap for the kick-off? Upstairs, on the second floor of Audiotheque, from 7-11pm, we will be having a Centennial Celebration Party! with performances by Armando Rodriguez, Pip Brant and FLEA. We'll have a few special Fluxus-style activities, wonderful refreshments, goodie bags, an indeterminate birthday cake... you name it. It's going to be a blast!
And for Thursday night? Thursday night at 9pm at Audiotheque the fabulous flutist Margaret Lancaster will be performing pieces by composers belonging to the American Experimentalist category, music by both the pioneers and some of their followers. (She will be performing again on Saturday at 9pm, also at the Audiotheque. This time it will be an all Cage program.)
Aren’t there also other experiences to be had on Lincoln Road? At the moment I'm putting the final touches on SOUNDING THRU EMPTY WORDS IV, the sound installation which opens that evening at the Listening Gallery on Lincoln Road. (The Listening Gallery is attached to the facade under the awnings of ArtCenter/South Florida's 800-810 Buildings and is a public sound art venue for the acoustical activation of public space). The piece will continue playing around the clock through the month of October. And at 924 Lincoln Road, where our studio Audiotheque is located, there will be another installation in the vitrine of the main entrance: John Cage's “Water Walk.”
But the Beach isn’t the only place where Cage will be celebrated, is it? It’s not. Juraj Kojs’s Homage to Cage takes place Friday night at PAX and will be an unusual concert of pieces commissioned from young composers for piano and everyday objects, each lasting exactly 4 minutes 33 seconds — the name and time duration of Cage's famous silent piece. And Marta Brankovic, a rising Miami-based Serbian pianist, will present “Colors”, a solo piano concert, at 3pm on Saturday afternoon at the Downtown Miami Dade Public Library.
What do you expect folks to take away from this incredible week of festivities? I do not expect people to so much come away with a deeper understanding of John Cage, his music and ideas, but with perhaps the curiosity to learn more about him and about how is that he truly represents the American tradition of innovation and experimentation.
The John Cage Centennial Celebration takes place September 5th through 9th at various venues. For more information log on here.