Sunday 1 February 2009

Lecture Seven: Duration, Or the Birth of Chance Out of the Spirit of Music

While teaching at Black Mountain College, a home from home for European modernist art and design in 1940s America, the composer John Cage caused an uproar by suggesting that musical compositions should be organized according to principles of duration rather than harmony. Beethoven, he argued, was out. Erik Satie and Anton Webern were in. By emphasizing duration over harmony, Cage was also opening up music as a multimedia practice. Anything could be part of the performance. Chance procedures now began to play an increasingly important role in the composition, presentation and perception of musical activity.

This lecture will examine the development of Cage’s graphic scores as maps of events, the role of text in performance and the nature of his collaborations with the choreographer Merce Cunningham as well artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Marcel Duchamp. It was also chart how the concept of duration contributed to the progressive development of environments and happenings from Fluxus in New York to the work of Joseph Beuys and Nam Jun Paik in West Germany. As music and image processing software increasingly permits us to manipulate sound and vision as plastic entities, the relationship between the graphic score and the data stream is due for serious reassessment.

Suggested Reading:

John Cage, M: Writings ’67 –’72, Weslyan, 1973
Anthony d’Offay Gallery, Dancers on A Plane: Cage, Cunningham, Johns (exhibition catalogue), 1989
Vincent Katz (ed), Black Mountain College: Experiment in Art, MIT Press, 2002
Merce Cunningham (with Jacqueline Lesschaeve), The Dancer and the Dance, Marion Boyars, 1991
Sol Lewitt, Sentences on Conceptual Art (NB – this link will send you to an online version of this document), 1969

Related Viewing:

David Tudor performs John Cage’s 4’ 33”
John Cage, I Have Nothing to Say and I Am Saying It
Joseph Beuys, Filtz TV
Joseph Beuys, I Like America and America Likes Me
Nam Jun Paik, Electronic Moon No 2

2.00pm Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Top image: part of the score for John Cage's 'Fontana Mix' 1958

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