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Cage & Consequences ed. by Julia H. Schröder and Volker Straebel (review)

From: Notes
Volume 70, Number 3, March 2014
pp. 450-452 | 10.1353/not.2014.0032

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Julia Schröder and Volker Straebel, the editors of Cage & Consequences, have achieved something impressive: their conference proceedings of an event with the same title, which formed part of the Berliner Festspiele and MaerzMusik in March 2012, was published within less than ten months. Their quick work has resulted in a volume containing sixteen English and ten German contributions, bringing us documentation of the conference, as well as much food for thought.

Cage & Consequences has grouped the papers under the headings: “Reading Cage” (seven texts, approximately 80 pages), “Performing Cage” (four texts, approximately 40 pages), “Composing after Cage” (eight texts, approximately 90 pages), “Cage and the Arts” (six texts, 60 pages). One paper not included here is Rainer Riehn’s “The Performer as Composer: The Phenomenon of the Composed Realisations of Cage’s Indeterminate Music” (my trans.; original title in German), while another text not heard at the conference, William Engelen’s “A Happy Conjuncture,” is included. It is a two-page reflection on the author’s own work, plus a page of a graphic score; Engelen does not mention Cage at all, and the readers are invited to draw their own connections and conclusions between Cage and his work’s “consequences.” Presumably this is Engelen’s approach to involving the performer more in the process of composing than this is conventionally the case.

A panel discussion with Robert Ashley, David Behrman, Gordon Mumma, Alvin Lucier, Christian Wolff, Matthias Osterwold, and Volker Straebel (16 pages), biographies of the authors and abstracts (for each contribution in English and German), as well as the requisite, yet very concise introduction by the editors (in English only), plus a Grußwort (welcoming speech) frame the papers, and give this volume the lively feel of a conference event (i.e., it is a documentation of the event, rather than a possibly stale series of prepared essays). The remainder of this review can only highlight some of the texts of this volume, and will do so in no particular order.

“John Cage and Walter Hinrichsen: The Early Years with Edition Peters (1960–1969),” by Don Gillespie, is much more interesting than it might sound. Hinrichsen promoted Cage’s music not only by publishing a very high number of the composer’s works (in his late 40s), but by also offering Cage’s scores to a vast number of institutions as an extremely tempting promotional subscription package. Quotations from Edition Peters’s internal memos illustrate that Hinrichsen’s extraordinary commitment to fostering engagement with the first half of Cage’s oeuvre prompted some negative reactions (see specifically the letters by the Peters employee Dr. Petschull [25 November 1963], 86). To me this was quite a revelation.

Hans-Friedrich Bormann’s “Cages Stimme horen: Ein Versuch” (“Listening to Cage’s Voice: Some Observations”) was an equally pleasant surprise. Whereas some commentators and scholars have commented, often negatively, on Cage performing his texts, Bormann tackles the interesting phenomenon of Cage’s voice in recordings from a critical, yet intrigued perspective. Cage used his speaking voice in a very particular manner (usually expressing a certain corporeality), thus conveying in itself a meaning, as the words have a very sonic quality, and sounds and words have a clear physical location. Bormann focuses on the experiential element within the text performance, and not on the content, structure, and style. From the text in this volume, we can gain an impression of the actual mode and manner of Bormann’s own presentation which was—from a certain point—“attacked,” punctuated, and accompanied by a recording of Cage talking. Even though the book format cannot properly convey the visual and aural sensation of the meta-level of Bormann’s presentation (or should this be performance?), it documents his approach in a vivid way.

The approaches and methods used in “ ‘Political’ or ‘Social’? John Cage and the remolding of Mao Tse-tung” (David W. Patterson) are not the most exciting in this collection. This, however, is actually its strength, as Patterson uses his known eye for detail and for critical examination. He is the first scholar to place Cage’s appropriation of Mao into a more common Western intellectual context (i.e., without hindsight and...



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