John Cage at the New School (1950-1960)


John Cage was involved with academic courses at the New School for Social Research for ten years between 1950 and 1960.  From 1950 until 1956, he was invited to take part in academic discussions and to undertake performances of his works by fellow composer, critic, and faculty member, Henry Cowell.

*March 1950 - performed works for prepared piano at "Living Composers"
*November 1951 - guest speaker at "The Meaning of Modern Music"
*1952 - concert series that included works by Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, and Pierre Boulez
*October 1955 - "Five Sunday Evenings" series, in which Cage performed with Cowell, Elliott          Carter, and others
*1955 - Guest speaker at "Music and Musicians in Greenwich Village"

In 1956, Cage became a member of the faculty.  During his tenure, he taught five courses on the subjects of music and mycology.  His first course, "Composition" (the name changing to "Experimental Composition" in 1958), was continuous.

Course Outline:  (Experimental) Composition

Experimental music, a course in musical composition with technological, musicological, and philosophical aspects, open to those with or without previous training.  Whereas conventional theories of harmony, counterpoint, and musical form are based on the pitch and frequency components of sound, this course offers problems and solutions in the field of composition based on other components of sound: duration, timbre, amplitude, and morphology; the course also encourages inventiveness.

A full exposition of the contemporary musical scene in light of the work of Anton Webern, and present developments in music for magnetic tape (musique concrete: electronische musik).*

*New School Catalog Vol. 14 No. 1, 1956 Sept. 3 PP Vol. 17 No. 31 1960 April 4

In 1957, Cage introduced two new courses: Virgil Thomson: The Evolution of a Composer" and "Erik Satie: The Evolution of a Composer."  These one-term courses were taught in the summer and fall, respectively.

Course Outline:  Virgil Thomson: The Evolution of a Composer

All of Thomson's works are discussed and as many as possible performed, live or by recording in chronological order, the purpose of the course being to recreate the experience the composer himself had in his music writing.  Active participation on the part of class members who are pianists or singers is welcomed.  Toward the end of the course the composer himself will be present to discuss his current activities.*

*New School Catalog Vol. 14 No. 32 1957 April 8

Course Outline:  Erik Satie: The Evolution of a Composer

All of Satie's works are discussed and as many as possible performed, live or by recording in chronological order, the purpose of this course being to recreate the experience the composer himself had in his music writing.  Active participation on the part of class members who are pianists or singers is welcomed.*

*New School Catalog Vol. 15 No. 1 1957 Sept. 2

Robert Whitman, Allan Kaprow, and George Brecht
Photo credit: Fred W. McDarrah
In 1958, Cage introduced a two-semester course, "Advanced Composition," which he taught with Henry Cowell and Frank Wigglesworth.  The class was scheduled to continue into the fall of 1958 and spring of 1959, but was cancelled.

George Brecht (center seated) and Allan Kaprow (rear, near coat).
Photo credit: Harvey Gross
Course Outline:  Advanced Composition

Prerequisite: Three semesters of harmony and counterpoint, one of form and elementary, or the equivalent.  Admission by application to one of the instructors upon previous submission of one or more compositions.

Well-prepared students of serious composition are enabled to have their own works examined, reviewed, and discussed by experienced professional composers.  Students desiring to work in larger forms of all sorts -- symphonic, operatic, choral, music for the dance, chamber music, et al. -- are particularly welcome, although compositions in smaller forms are also accepted for examination.

While the composer-instructors consider the student's work with reference to its place in contemporary music, no one branch or school of modern music is emphasized rather than any other; any technique for handling contemporary material is studied if it has application to the student's problems.  It is not primarily a course in such techniques or in the analysis of the work of others, except insofar as this may be desirable for the student's better understanding of his own composition.*

*New School Catalog Vol. 16 No. 1 1958 PP Vol. 16 No. 19 1959 Jan. 5

Al Hansen giving instruction to Brecht and Kaprow
Photo credit: Harvey Gross
Cage's final course at the New School reflected his interest in mycology, "Mushroom Identification." Cage traces his interest in the subject to a trip to Stony Point in the early 1950s, where he realized he was "starved for nature" living in New York City.  Cage taught this class with Guy Nearing, a fellow co-founder of the New York Mycological Society.

Course Outline:  Mushroom Identification

Five field trips in the vicinity of New York City.  Preliminary meeting for information on transportation, etc., Monday, June 22, 8:20 p.m.

Mr. Cage is an amateur mycologist and honorary member, Gruppo Micological "G. Bresadola," Trent, Italy.*

*New School Catalog Vol. 19 No. 33 1959 April 20, Vol. 17 No. 1 1959 Sept. 7, Vol. 17 No. 31 1960 April 4

All information collated by Victoria Miguel from New School Bulletins and Catalogs, courtesy of Raymond Fogelman Library, N.S.U. June 2000

Laura Kuhn

Pure (John Cage) Whimsy from Puremagnetik.com


For some pure John Cage whimsy from Puremagnetik.com*, click here.

*Puremagnetik is the project of sound programmer Micah Frank.  It has functioned since 2006 as a creative sound design outlet, releasing "packs" inspired by all kinds of ongoing recording work.  Frank himself is an award-winning music and sound programmer.  He studied jazz and contemporary music at The New School in New York, afterwards spending years as a professional composer and sound designer.  Currently he is the lead developer at Puremagnetik, as well as the Sound Packs Manager at Ableton AG.  He currently lives in Berlin.

Laura Kuhn

4'33" The App!

John Cage, Ad Man



Proof for a Christmas card designed by John Cage for Jack Lenor Larsen, Inc., 1957


On Dec. 14, 1956, John Cage submitted an invoice to Jack Lenor Larsen related to his work for Jack Lenor Larsen, Inc., an exciting upstart textile firm in New York City. The total amount was $9.77, reimbursement being requested for the cost of newspapers ($3.60), paper-fasteners ($5.67), and "Mother's" paper bags ($.50).  For Cage, the work had been a pleasure, and in his brief letter he expressed the hope that Larsen would call on him again.  As he added at the close, he was again near "financial zero," and trusted that Larsen would expedite payment of his invoice. On Aug. 14, 1957, some eight months later, Cage received a letter from one Manning Field, who, on behalf of Jack Lenor Larsen, Inc., offered him a contract for continued services. The deal was this: $400 a month for Cage's services as graphic artist/stylist for the whole of the company's advertising and promotion program.  The period covered by the contract was July 1 - Dec. 31, 1957, during which Cage was expected to style, execute, and arrange printing and placement of the company's advertising and mailing program; he was also expected to assist in planning the advertising program for the following year.

It's been long known that Cage did work as a graphic artist for Jack Lenor Larsen, Inc. in the mid-1950s, but details were scant. (Cage had, at the time, designed many posters and fliers for the Cunningham Dance Company's early performances, which exhibited a unique design sense.)  So, it was with great delight this past month, while conducting research at Wesleyan University Library's Special Collections and Archives, that I discovered a number of folders containing correspondence between Cage and Larsen, as well as numerous examples of Cage's work. These included stationary and business cards, invitations, ads, and even a company Christmas card (seen above).* Naomi Yang**, long associated with the John Cage Trust as its inspired designer, serendipitously stopped by, and we were able to peruse the materials together. Below are a few samples of Cage's work, with Naomi's side-bar thoughts, from a design perspective.

*Cage's initial thought for a holiday card was a charming if ultimately impractical hand-cut paper snowflake placed in a small handmade Japanese style box upon a small piece of one of Larsen's fabrics.  Click here for a fun interview snippet ("The snowflake will know...") for more about this.

 **Naomi is also an inspired Indie musician, who, with her husband Damon Krukowski, joined forces with Dean Wareham in Galaxie 500 and later formed Damon and Naomi.



Naomi loves the playfulness of this ad. Here, Cage used the actual ticket from the press show, but replaced portions of the original text with ad copy.  He also typeset additional ad copy into the form of an "envelope," in the manner of Pattern Poetry. She especially enjoyed seeing this ad in its original context, its bold, graphic character strikingly juxtaposed against the staid, modern design of the rest of the page.








The proof to the right is of an ad created for Interiors magazine, where, along with Interior Designs, much of Cage's work appeared. Here, Cage constructed an image of a flag flying over a city skyline, the skyline itself constructed of ad copy. Naomi notes how Cage freely placed words in any direction, regardless of their "readability," and also how he used letterforms as shapes. Note, for example, the final "O" in the word "cotton" on the upper left, which is typset larger than the other letters to serve double duty as the finial on top of the flag post.










Here's another playful design -- a "fake" telegram that incorporates a cheerful collaged figure of designer Kay Russell dressed in a textile outfit and framed by a border of ad copy. Judging by the placement of the page number at the bottom left from this clipped ad, it seems that Cage either designed this ad without regard for the vertical orientation of the page, or else simply permitted it to run that way, regardless of page orientation.








Naomi laughed delightedly when she saw this envelope, which she's quite certain caused the original printer's heart to sink. Cage placed the return address on the back flap, right against the fold at the top edge, permitting absolutely no margin of error in the printing process. A totally "dangerous" design from a printer's point of view! When sealed, it must have been very striking to have this minuscule line of type precariously perched at the very edge of the paper.  Further, after opening the envelope, all trace of the return address likely disappeared into the torn edge!




This invitation to the right, consisting of a printed footprint and individual invitation cards, reminds Naomi of certain Fluxus pieces that were to come, ones wherein body parts were used to trace markings in paint along the floor.  She also enjoyed the mischievous juxtaposition of champagne and bare feet at a fancy private opening.










Cage's "Naugahyde ad" seen here, which would serve as the basis of an ongoing series, is positioned in the unassuming lower right corner of the page, with a delightfully high concept play on words: "Larsen Naugahyde Tops Everything." Despite their small size, and through the use of a relatively dark background and unusually large type, these unassuming ads were quite effective -- jumping off the page, demanding that you read them twice.









As Cage's contract was about to expire, he again wrote to Larsen, who was then in China, on Dec. 20, 1957, asking whether his work for Jack Lenor Larsen, Inc. was to continue. Ten days later, Larsen replied with not one but two lengthy letters, beginning the first with the observation that his house in Taichung was "...less what we like to think of as being Oriental than your setting at Stony Point." The first letter was a somewhat gentle critique of Cage's work for his company, having much to do with what he felt was Cage's inability to differentiate between work he should do himself and work he should delegate to others. The second, dated just three days later, was far more stern and direct. Much of the actual substance of Larsen's second letter is explicitly addressed in Cage's reply (below), but in the main Larsen expresses ambivalence about the success of Cage's work as a whole, and also asks how Cage plans to complete the work that was left incomplete at year's end, without additional payment.

Cage was not pleased.  On Jan. 8, 1958, he sent a lengthy reply to Larsen, who was now in Saigon:

Dear Jack:

Thank you for the letters of Dec. 30 and Jan. 2. I gather that in employing me you wished to complete a "circle" of work (having "integrity," etc.) of which a certain few jobs have been a "crescent." Now that the period of our agreement has expired, you suggest that I would be failing as a "gentleman and fellow artist," lacking in "good spirit," if I did not proceed with the work taking as payment only "experience and successful lasting relationship."

Several other points are made in your letters which seem to fall either into a cursory vocational psychoanalysis of me (I work too hard, should be more efficient, get too involved, etc.) or an indication of displeasure with works done, -- ads which now appear to you "unsavory" -- the Xmas Greeting which you now request me to justify. Incidentally, you ask for one to be forwarded to you. This is impossible. 2000 were ordered and sent out. There are no more, nor the materials to make more.

As far as payment to me for work done goes, you mention two agreements, one "raised to 2500 dollars" and the other "outside contract Xmas project."

Let me answer the above in reverse order. By interpreting 2500 dollars as $400/month, the Company saved itself, and deprived me of, $100. And, in order to complete the Xmas project (Greetings, Gift Wraps), I had to employ others, so that in the end I made virtually no profit. Note that I am not complaining, since it was part of our agreement that I would take the consequences of my plan for the Xmas Greeting.

I consider your present dissatisfaction with works done irrelevant, for they were all accepted by you and generally worked upon in collaboration with you. Let me add in parenthesis that I am not ashamed of any of the work done nor do I see any need to justify any of it. Furthermore, I am told by many that the work I have done is brilliant, the best in the field, etc. Neither blame nor praise impresses me since I know that I simply did what I could in good faith.

My methods of work are intimately my own. I see no value in being an "idea man" and not having a finger in production. For at the present time in this society, nothing is done as one intends unless he does it himself, or stands closely by its being done. The stationary presents an excellent example: the idea is "superb," but the realization is unfortunate. At any rate, you now know something of how I work and you can either engage me or not as you choose to do further work. That I worked "too hard" is evident to both of us. From October 1 on I can exceed your 120 hrs a wk. with my 126 hrs.  I was unable to return to Stony Point until Dec. 20. And this was not all Xmas work, but ads, misc. items commissioned by you, 4 hrs. a wk. for teaching, and around 6 hrs. of dance rehearsals/wk.

I have enjoyed the work as I say in my letter to you of Dec. 20, and would welcome continuation. In fact, I am still working on the Feb. Interiors ad which has met many obstacles in its production. 13 days of the present month will have been devoted to the Company's interests without recompense to me. Furthermore, the ad (Naugahyde format) represents a program and has a copy which I do not profoundly endorse. My sense of liveliness is other than the "continuity" you insist upon. However, to repeat, I would willingly continue working for the Company, but I literally cannot afford to do so, since no payment is forthcoming. I would need money to stay alive, move about, and nourish myself.

Finally, that the contract has expired and work remains to be done is simply an accurate statement of fact. I did all I could and it was insufficient, though I provided the expected assistance in planning future work (the Naugahyde ad can, as you have pointed out, germinate a multiplicity of results). This fact that I did all I could and it was insufficient must be seen squarely. No court of law would judge me guilty for I have many witnesses of my constant activity in the Company's interests. And, in money terms, one single job, the Sweets Catalogue, could have cost the Company as much or more than was involved in the 6 months agreement. If you have no more money to spend, you must see that you cannot afford what you would like to have in the way of services. In this connection you should know that the Company has contracted for 12 ads in Interiors, 6 in Interior Design, that unless these contracts are fulfilled the costs of previous ads go up considerably.  (I.D. is in fact alarmed over the program as it so far relates to them having expressed to me their thought that the Company's relation to them has a history of promises made only to be broken.) Furthermore, I should, if I were still employed, be making the ad to meet the Feb. deadline. You apparently have no conception of the time that goes into the production of one of these ads. I suggest therefor that the Naugahyde ad be repeated in the March Interiors (Feb. 5 deadline) so that the ad program may remain in effect, and economically so.

You may be imagining that I have been overpaid and that I have saved money during the past 6 months, and you therefor speak of my "retentative bent." Such is not the case. My parents were dependants and still are. My necessity at the moment is to find remunerative employment.

In all friendliness and cordiality,

Sincerely yours,

John Cage

Copy to Mr. Manning Field

___________________________

Cage's work for Jack Lenor Larsen, Inc. ended on Dec. 31, 1957, as per the term specified in his contract. And although Larsen was dubious about the "recognizability" of Cage's Xmas greeting, we at the John Cage Trust love it. We decided to use it as the basis of our own Christmas card this year, to be sent as an eblast.  (For those of you oddly not on our mailing list, drop me a line and I'll happily add you.)  Here it is, reinterpreted by none other than Naomi Yang!




LAURA KUHN (and NAOMI YANG)

1942 America Speaks (The City Wears a Slouch Hat)


My dear Mrs. Cage,

I have tried to get you on the telephone but you were not in when I called, hence this note.  We listened to the Cage-Patchen program on Sunday afternoon.  To my regret there were interruptions during the duration, but I did manage to get a definite reaction.  At first I was confused, but as the broadcast progressed I began to see light, and toward the end I grasped a superb climax.  Am I right in this interpretation?  A man who finds himself in a sordid, trivial, noisy, meaningless world, rejects it.  He moves among events (happenings, I should say) and personalities, with which he has no affinity, realizing their unreason, and finally their impotence.  This realization gives him the power to negate their malign purposes.  But there must be somewhere, he argues, a scene free from the sordid, trivial, mean purposelessness.  He senses the ideal world as a real world through the aspiring and assertive measures of poetry.  He longs for the ocean (symbol of eternity).  He finds himself on a rock (reality), with the ocean surging about him in rhythmic measures.  He is not isolated, for a fellow being who is also responsive to eternity and reality stands with him on the rock. The reality both voice is universal love.  The sound effects became more comprehensible to me as the drama progressed, and the final cosmic (rather, celestial) surge of the ocean in its true being as the symbol of eternity, was indeed superb.  I should love to hear it again, but I would insist on being in the room alone with the radio.  Mrs. Webster was impressed by the magnificent musical quality in the ocean surge, but I do not think she "got" the production in its entirety.  Perhaps I was wide of the mark in my interpretation, but at least the production conveyed a message to me.  The ocean surge was, to me, the apotheosis of interpretative music.  Tell your son so, please.  

Love to the Cages from Ruth Lord Jenkins (June 2nd, 1942)
~
In late 1941, the Columbia Broadcasting System commissioned John Cage to compose a radio play with sound effects on a text by the poet Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972).  The resulting The City Wears a Slouch Hat, an experimental program for the popular series known as the "Columbia Workshop,"was given its one and only broadcast over the CBS network on May 31, 1942, from 2:00 to 2:30 p.m., a Sunday afternoon.  Directed by Les Mitchell, its actors were Les Tremayne, Madelon Grayson, Forrest Lewis, Jonathan Hole, Frank Dane, and John Larkin. The percussion ensemble, conducted by Cage, included Cilia Amidon, Xenia Cage, Ruth Hartman, Stuart Lloyd, and Claire Oppenheim.  

While this broadcast didn't prove to be Cage's ticket to fame and fortune, it didn't go unnoticed.  Letters poured into both the Chicago and New York CBS stations, some extolling the work's virtues, some suggesting the collaborators be committed to an asylum, and some expressing genuine confusion. The one at the top of this blog, a deep, psychological read, was addressed to Cage's mother (then residing at 305 North Mountain Avenue, Upper Montclair, New Jersey), an obvious friend of the family.  Another (just below) was from a fellow radio drama writer, "Jack," clearly inspired by the broadcast and expressing his desire to break free of what he found to be the stifling conventions of the medium:

Dear Sirs:

Congratulations on today's workshop experiment.  The whole scope, the entire conception of THE CITY IN THE SLOUCH HAT is a revolutionary stride in the drama of radio.  I believe that the play (if I may call it that) indicated something, an intangible "something" of our radio future.  True, it will take some education to make the radio audience appreciate this type of drama.  Maxwell Anderson has attempted to accomplish this with varying degrees of success on the American stage.  Kaupmann and Carl Capek have toyed with it in the European drama.  But in the world of radio no one has had the nerve to inject expressionism and impressionism on the vast American listening audience.

Your production will give heart to many radio writers and production managers all over the country. We all have the urge to try something "different."  We all want to delve into fantasy.  I know of some NBC officials who are just aching to produce some shows similar to today's program.  Some of us in the smaller stations...others freelancing...all are anxious to develop these new trends.  But most of us are afraid.  The vast majority of radio writers tend to follow the same norm, day after day...constantly alert to the sensitivity of their listeners' tender ears...always aware of the fact that they might insult them...perhaps offend them.  If we have reached that stage in radio...then it is time to stop all ingenuity. However, you fellows have created something startling...something banging. It's good and healthy.  And it will give us some very definite ideas.  I would like to know just what the response to this program was.  Whether it followed a criticism such as mine, or whether it was derogatory in nature.

This letter is as unusual as your program.  This is the first note I have ever written concerning a program...such as your program was the first I ever heard.  However, I believe it was Ted Husing who once wrote that every letter he received was a "first letter".  That's a bit cynical.  There are some of us who are going to see and be aware of some mighty big changes in radio production.  New trends are going to develop...radio drama is going to creep out of its present apparent infancy and do some really artistic things.

Thank you once again for a chance to see into the future of radio.

Sincerely, Jack

And there was even one from a young experimental composer, none other than the 25-year old Robert Erickson, by far the longest and most thoughtful of the lot:

May 31, '42

Dear Mr. Cage,

I heard your radio show this afternoon, & although I can't say I accept the whole thing unreservedly, it was so stimulating & and so provocative that I felt I should write you a letter.  I particularly enjoyed the last part of the drama -- the sea episode.  I think that there you succeeded in giving that sensation of utter power which the sea has & you made something which was impossible to render with words alone.

However, in some of the early episodes it seemed to me that the sound was more sound effect than anything else.  It was in these episodes that the drawback in your art made itself felt.  Namely: although your "music" has the power to evoke it lacks the power to bind ideas together, which amounts to saying that you cannot build form.  I am saying this only on this one hearing & I may well be wrong.   Or some of your other compositions may show stronger formal characteristics.

Anyway, this afternoon's music was primarily evocative, whether by design or accident.  More than that, it was almost wholly literary, the sea, city sounds, etc.  That is all well & good -- much better than the bloated Wagnerian stuff that Hollywood puts behind its "dramas".  But when you say you are "building a structure in sound," that is where my doubts come in.

First I must say I am not prejudiced against dissonant sound or percussion or new forms.  I am an atonal composer & as such I had to get rid of my prejudices long ago.  I am also aware of the truth in the statement of the learned astronomer -- "A system must be built of materials, but the material is of no consequence."  In art, however, the materials which can express the greatest range of feeling in the best way are the best materials.  I think your materials are limiting you.

You have many instruments which have a strong attack, but few or none which can sustain a sound. You seem to have difficulties with long crescendos.  Your music is mostly "harmonic" (if we may use the term) & lacks the subtlety that can be gotten with polyphony.  I am sure that polyphonic rhythm is possible, but I heard none of it today, & was disappointed.  It seems to me that in building forms in sound you must give rhythms the job of melody & that necessarily the form must be polyphonic in character.  Otherwise no matter what you do you will have impressionism, & a poor variety of it at that.

Another thing that interests me about your work is that you in a way are starting afresh at the path of musical beginning.  Why, I wonder.  I suppose it is a reaction against 19th century romanticism & the breakdown of diatonicism.  But why react so far that you will no longer employ the tones we are provided with, along with people able to produce those tones?  Certainly you can't believe that the resources of our instruments are unable to be expanded!  Look what Schoenberg did in Pierrot Lunaire, & with precious few instruments too.

After all, don't you think that we are all building structures in sound?  You get a certain effect from using bells, gongs, cans, etc., but don't you think a composer can duplicate the total effect with existing orchestral instruments?  And with more control, too, over nuance.

Now the sounds.  A whistle is a good sound, but it will always be a whistle.  That is, it will have extra-musical ideas attached to its sound.  The same for a bell & so on.  The fact that these are natural sounds make it difficult to weave them into anything which can sound more than impressionistic.

I may be wrong.  The article you wrote for the last issue of Modern Music is so good that I think you are trying to be more than an impressionist.  I'd like to hear more of your stuff before giving an opinion.  My above remarks are merely impressions.

I liked the Patchen libretto very much in spots & perhaps it was the libretto's disjointed character which made the music seem to lack form.  Certain episodes were trivial, the hold-up, the waterfront scene; but the meeting with the woman & of course the sea were brilliant.  I certainly hope Columbia will give you more work to do.  Today's show had a certain artistic integrity which has been all too absent from many of these experimental plays.

I'd like to hear from you about some of these questions as they interest me very much.

Sincerely,

Robert Erickson
General Delivery
Douglas, Michigan

While you can listen to the original broadcast here



courtesy of the media archives at the John Cage Trust, two recordings are commercially available: the original broadcast, released on the label of the Malibu-based Cortical Foundation, Organ of Corti, founded in 1992 by the inimitable Gary Todd,* and a new realization, released in 1997 on Mode Records, featuring Essential Music and a stellar ensemble of actors headed up by the late Paul Schmidt as the "Voice." 

*Gary is no longer at the helm of the Cortical Foundation, as he suffered a near fatal accident more than a decade ago and never fully recovered. At approximately 5 am on Sept. 9, 2001, Gary fell from the third-story balcony of a friend's home.  Rushed to UCLA Medical Center, he underwent brain surgery for eight and a half hours, after which he remained in a coma for a considerable period of time.  Since 2006 he has lived in Minnesota near his sister, and is currently resident in an assisted living facility in the small town of Crookston, where he was born. He is well cared for, although still longs to return to Los Angeles.  His good friend Michael Intriere speaks with him frequently, and in 2011 visited him and showed him the recently-completed documentary of Hermann Nitsch created by Daniela Ambrosoli.  (Shortly before his accident, Gary had put the finishing touches on the sound edit for the 52-CD box set of the live recording he had made of Nitsch's Six-Day Play.)  Click here for a short video clip of Gary's response to the film, which is both heartbreaking and inspiring. While it is unlikely that Gary will ever return to his former life, he remains avidly interested in contemporary music and welcomes communication from admirers and friends (especially audio CDs!).  Mail can be addressed to him at:

Gary Todd Sylvester
820 Eickoff Blvd.
Crookston, MN   56716  
~

I can't resist including below a random sampling of other letters to CBS, all dated within days of the initial airing, all transcribed verbatim, and all housed in the amazing "John Cage Correspondence Collection" at Northwestern University's Music Library in Evanston, Illinois. Endless thanks to its fearless leader, D.J. Hoek. Enjoy!


SOUND
sound of color
the bass beat
walk in air
the sound of Growth

compliments to the Columbia Workshop for its admirable presentation of "Slouched Hat" and for the John Cage SOUNDS.

maybe not the greatest show but a big step forward to "real radio" presentation.

yours very truly, Henry

On May 30 or 31st you broadcast Kenneth Patchen's 'City - a Slouch Hat' with incidental music by John Cage.  This was, for many of us, a pleasant relief from the usual hearts and flowers accompaniment, and an interesting experiment both in story and music.  I hope you will be able to give your listeners more of Mr. Cage's percussion music without the addition of voice.

Also, a propos of interesting experimental music over the radio -- in Chicago at the moment is another musician from California: Harry Partch, who has written music based on a 43-tone scale and especially played on instruments of own, such as a viola resembling somewhat a viola da gamba, and using for the most part cello strings and played with cello bow.  For this instrument he has set many Chinese poems to music.  Several other instruments, a chromatic organ, a chromolodian which was perfected in Chicago early this year, the kithara, an adaptation of the Greek lyre, and what he calls an adapted guitar for which he has written some fascinating songs, "Bitter Music," "Barstow," etc., some taken from hitch-hikers' inscriptions from California highway railings.  These songs, with the accompaniment of Partch's instruments and more of John Cage's percussion music would be a relief to hear for all music lovers, and I hope you will be able to include them in your future programs over the radio.

In case you do not know the address of Mr. Partch nor heard this music, he can be reached at 1620 Bankers Bldg., c/o R.W. Lotz 105 W. Adams and I shall tell him I have written you because of the sincere admiration I have for his musical knowledge and his talent.

Cordially yours, Sibyl

What in the world are you trying to do, make nervous wrecks out of people?  I always liked the "Columbia Workshops."  I have tried to hear it out, but with all the noise, banging and slamming, I am almost driven crazy, so had to turn it off.

Please keep up your good old work with it, it is enough noise and nerve-wracking things going on without adding to it, it is the most non-sensible thing I ever heard over a radio, banging, slamming, hammering, or was something wrong at the station, it has me so nervous I can't even write.

Thanks a lot for passed good programs.

A constant appreciable listener


I enjoyed your play immensely until that damned noise started, couldn't more like it be put on with the noise in its place, and periods of peace prevail.

Yours truly, Josey


Your production of The City Wears a Slouch Hat has given me more pleasure and dramatic excitement than any radio performance I have ever heard.

The well-knit intensity, the life-like thought stream, and the symphonic impact of the sound, reveal superior direction and intelligent rehearsal of real material.

I should like very much to know if the script or program notes have been published, and if recordings were made -- as they certainly should be.

Congratulations!

Roland

I'm glad to see the "Columbia Workshop" in the groove again!  "The City Wears a Slouch Hat" (of May 31st) is the best and most unusual production since the Norman Cousin series.

After all the Workshop was originally intended for the purpose of new radio techniques, and of late you had been slipping away from that purpose.

Why not keep the "Workshop" in Chicago?

Sincerely, Gordon

I have just finished listening to your program on WSPA in Spartanburg, S.C. (E.W.T.) today, on Columbia's Workshop, entitled "City Walks in a Slouch Hat."

Unfortunately I tuned in after the program started and couldn't quite figure out what it was all about. There were four soldiers in my room listening to it and it certainly had our attention for quite some time.  It created a topic of quite a conversation, and after much to-do we still cannot decide what the point was.  What's the dope?  Who was the "Voice" supposed to represent?

Please reply at your earliest possible convenience, and lift us out of the darkness.

Yours very truly, F.J.

The Country Wears Baggy Pants
(Dedicated to the Columbia Workshop)

Exodus!  Expand expectant exhortation!
Formality forlorn gelitinates a gem,
Marauds his erudition.  Admiration
Opinionates beliefs of me -- and them.

Ah, sweet Opacity, whose opaline omniscience
Triangulates my timorous oration,
Come, Come!  Transmute to me thy bright translucence
To adulate the drama of the nation.

Then nevermore administer addendum
Not let malicious tongue give admonition.
Shanghai them off to Argentine to end 'em
And praise it evermore with sweet contrition.

Mildred

I don't get it!

Would you be so kind as to forward the name of the Asylum from which today's Workshop originated?  I failed to get the address at the conclusion.  And may I ask just how difficult it is to secure the employment of the inmates to write and produce your show.  No doubt, the patients enjoyed today's program, however I would like to know if they worked in straight-jackets or padded cells.

Incomprehensively yours, Paul (Announcer on Duty!)

P.S.  The views and opinions expressed verbatim do not necessarily represent the above letter-head (KOMA, Oklahoma City's CBS Station).


By accident I tuned into your program this afternoon and found it impossible to turn off the radio until the production was ended.

It is my regret that I missed the first part of the program and am interested in knowing what it contained.

Would you please inform me of any possibility of my seeing the script?

Sincerely, Ruth

As one of the many regular listeners to your Columbia Workshop Programs, I want to take this opportunity to both praise and criticize.  Praise for the high quality of all past performances, with the exception of "The City Wears a Slouch Hat."

Your whole staff slipped up on this one.  Perhaps it was the past performances of the brilliant author that fooled you.

To me (and I am sure there were thousands of others who felt the same way I did), "Slouch Hat" had a slight odor...not of flowers either.

First of all, if one is to criticize, one should be fair enough to point out the strong parts as well as the weak spots --- Well, here goes!

The strong part was really not a part, but actually a voice -- the voice of the interrogator.  He did a swell job with nothing but his voice -- for the words were meaningless; --- meaningless even to so-called intellectuals.  Certainly the level of language and the sound effects were not aimed to reach the "average" radio listener.  If the writer intended the program only for the eccentric -- long-haired group....I believe that they also must have been bored by the long-drawn-out sound effects.

Another thing: I think your Sound Effects man should really go out and make a listening study at 42nd Street and Times Square of the City noises -- or in the factory district if he likes.  He will not hear any noises like those constantly mingled with the speakers' voices.  I really am sincere about this criticism.  I don't mean to be funny.  I just thought of what a splendid job your staff have been doing and no doubt will continue to do....But for the sake of your vast audience, please give more time to rehearsals and honest critics before you pawn off any more monotonous plays on us like "Slouch Hat".

Sincerely, Larry


You are to be congratulated on the splendid performance of "The City Wears a Slouch Hat" this last Sunday.  I enjoyed it immensely as did also a group of my friends who listened.

It was an imaginative, beautiful, and exciting piece of surrealism.  The music and sound effects were a great help in creating and sustaining the mood throughout the play.  The acting was excellent, and the director did a most difficult thing well.

I hope there will soon be another play of the same caliber to listen to.  I shall look forward to it.

Sincerely yours, Ruth


Thank you for producing "The City Wears A Slouch Hat".  Such programs require courageous producers.  The production was at once both beautiful and moving as well as hopeful and encouraging to anyone sensitive to forces in the world today which question, hope, neighborly love and personal freedom.

The musical sound effect was arresting.  Why not produce more programs like this one?

Sincerely, David


We were so impressed with the original & imaginative qualities of the workshop presentation "The City Wears a Slouch Hat" that we decided to write to you with the hope that we will be given the opportunity of hearing more of John Cage's radio music and scripts by outstanding young American poets & writers.  We believe that this is the most successful attempt toward producing an organic work in the field of radio and that this direction, if followed, will result in an intrinsic art expression.

We would like very much to hear this program repeated and many of our friends who heard it and those who missed it have expressed the same desire.

Sincerely, Gretchen and Alexander


This is the first fan letter I've felt moved to write to the "Workshop" in several years.  It is about the Patchen play which was broadcast last Sunday: THE CITY WEARS A SLOUCH HAT.  The play is a work of genius.  Cage's music was most impressive and perfectly wedded to the Patchen drama.  Is it possible that you will produce other works by this inspired combination?

Sincerely, Arthur


Attention: The Powers That Be

Such is the power of radio.  Having just heard your program, "The City Wears a Slouch Hat," I cannot resist the urge to flay you through every studio in the building for that perpetration in the name of Drama and the Workshop.

In many years of listening with real pleasure to Workshop offerings, my intelligence and discrimination have never been offended by a story so lacking in coherence, continuity, sense or entertainment.

How you could present, under the same aegis, "The City Wears a Slouch Hat" and such plays as the series of "26 by Corwin," "Patrick and the Devil," the story of "Christmas in the Underworld," etc., I can't begin to comprehend.  Believe me, the descent from Corwin to Patchen is like unto the plight of the fallen angels.

Nothing could surpass this piece for weakness of conception, hodgepodge of themes, rambling uncertainty of destination, and plain undramatic development.  And my shock at hearing the poor-read out-of-context poetry, almost had me wondering if my radio were switching frequencies again.

Please, for the sake of my peace of mind, and your reputation, write me a letter explaining the purpose, the message, the dramatic value, or any other virtue of this story, still fogged in mystery. Until you do, my conviction of your eminence in radio drama will be in danger of crumbling, utterly.

Yours very sincerely, Harry


Just what kind of a story did you have on the radio yesterday afternoon?  I listened to the end because I was curious, but got no satisfaction.  And those noises!

If I knew what "The City Wears a Slouch Hat" was meant to imply I might continue to listen to Columbia Workshop in the future.

Very truly yours, Adeline


Just a word congratulating you and Kenneth Patchen on "The City Wears a Slouch Hat."  It was meaty, solid, and very, very interesting.

A suggestion: How about some more of John Donne?  Certainly today's "Death, be not proud" was outstanding.

A mere listener applauds, H.E.G.


Just what was that half hour of noise on CBS Sunday - 3 to 3:30?

What did it all mean?  What is the point of doing a play that means absolutely nothing at all?  Is it the desire to do something "different"?  Then by all means let's get back to the old plot stuff.  At least we can follow that kind of stuff.

Mr. Patchen, as his books of poetry provide, is up to some dark mysterious mischief.  Some call it metaphysics, some call it philosophic, some say it is profound.  The truth is, it is bunk, pure and simple and unadulterated.

Because only bunk has no meaning.

A listener


I should like to add my congratulations and appreciation to the many you will receive on the stirring, exciting and beautiful "The City Wears a Slouch Hat."  I heard the John Cage program at the University of Chicago, but radio is his medium.  The walking in the stars and the ocean sequences were thrilling.

Elizabeth


The Workshop's presentation of last Sunday, "The City Wears a Slouch Hat," was depressing. There is nothing new about the school of non sequitur in art, which proclaims that art needs neither form nor meaning.  Gertrude Stein, Schoenberg, & Dali have accustomed us to it.  But I am sorry to see the Columbia Broadcasting System joining those ranks.

Sincerely yours, E.A.


Your program "The City Wears a Slouch Hat" heard Sunday at 3 P.M. was perfectly wacky.  The author should be treated to a visit to a psychiatrist.

"Mr. & Mrs. Average Intelligent Listener"


Still breathless.  How's chances of hearing it again?

Herb and Margaret


Forced myself to hear "The City Wears a Slouch Hat" thru to its conclusion.  My wife locked herself in the bathroom.  You should be ashamed to waste good broadcast time, and some people's time, with such prattle, in this day and age.  I trust the author is soon locked up in some nice safe "Sanitarium."

A usually appreciative listener, and one who must work in a City.


Sunday, May 31.  Columbia Workshop.  3:30 P.M.  Just finished listening to your play for today.  Of all the Rot & Noise I've heard on the radio, this last half hour about a city that wears a slouch hat is positively the noisiest & worst I've ever heard!

Walt


Laura Kuhn

So Begins the Hiatus (Organ2/ASLSP in Halberstadt)


I'm just back from Halberstadt (a 20+ hour journey), having attended the ceremonious 13th note change in the hyperdurational sounding of John Cage's Organ2/ASLSP. This is the last note change to occur for seven long years, so it was particularly well attended. The image above is my vantage point -- being among the last to enter the church, I was really only able to watch the proceedings via the many cell phones held above the heads of hundreds of compatriots. (The presence of so much technology in so hallowed a space is, well, jarring.)

For those almost impossibly not in the loop on this, this is the inspiration of a rarified group of musicologists, theologians, philosophers, and musicians in the Saxon town of Halberstadt in East Germany who founded the John Cage Organ Project (properly, the John Cage Orgel Kunst Projekt Halberstadt), a 639-year realization of Cage's composition in the town's historic St. Burchardi church. St. Burchardi was built in roughly 1050, and has served sequentially as a monastery, a barn, a distillery, an abandoned building, and a pigsty. It presently sits pretty much empty but for its modest Blockwerk organ (with 12-note claviature and grand, grand bellows) and the perpetual sound of Cage's piece.


Much has been written about the John Cage Organ Project, so I won't write much about it per se hereYou can visit the dedicated website, which chronicles virtually everything that's transpired since its inception (Sept. 5, 2001), or you can check out the many, many blogs that have given it space over the years. There's fortyfps.com, theclassicalgirl.com, and basenow.net, just for starters. And, yes, of course, youtube.com. Click here for video of this year's gathering, which took place on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, at 4:00 p.m. You might also peruse a beautiful photo montage by Rönni Gottel, or see how the event was covered on not one but two different Russian television stations, First Russian TV and the National Russian Television Broadcasting Service.

It's interesting how the John Cage Organ Project has so captured the imagination of the world, giving birth to an incredible number of inspired responses taking the form of new films, writings, visual art works, sculptures, and musical compositions. For years now, one or more of these works has been brought in as an ancillary offering to those present for the much anticipated note change(s). This year there were three: a screening of Sabine Groschup's experimental documentary, (JC{639}), with camera work by Jerzy Palacz, photos by Barbara Klemm, and sound design by Eric Spitzer-Marlyn, which runs a mere 29'14" (the precise length of the work's world premiere performance by Gerd Zacher in Metz in 1987), a visual art exhibition curated by Georg Weckwerth complete with bell ringing fish, an amplified cactus, and a set of Plexigrams from Cage's own Not Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel, and a new documentary film by the lovely Pierre Hébert, a Canadian experimental filmmaker whose Places and Monuments 5: John Cage - Halberstadt brings together in the most intriguing manner animation with live action shooting.

Groschup's film is, in a sense, a work in progress, in that while it was "completed" in 2006, its 89 scenes (corresponding to the composition's 89 tones) can and have been chance rearranged into what are in effect wholly new films by a variety of individuals - 18 to date, with another 71 to go (all 89, in time, to be sold in a limited edition boxed set). Jozef Cseres, co-curator with Weckwerth of 2012's Membra Disjecta for John Cage (seen in Vienna, Prague, and Ostrava), created the first on Jan. 9, 2012. The screening in Halberstadt, Cseres's #1, was seen on traditional wide screen, while all 18 completed to date were parsed out across an emergent forest of 18 mismatched television monitors arranged on numbered carpet squares, cordoned off from the public, reminiscent of a Nam June Paik.

One of the more surprising responses to the Halberstadt Project is the essay penned by science fiction grandmaster Robert Silverberg, entitled "Reflections", published in a 2012 issue of Asimov's. Now, Asimov's might seem an unlikely fit for a piece about John Cage, since Asimov, its founder, was the apotheosis of the rational, the intentional, and, in his way, the principle of utopian central planning. He was a biochemist by trade but best known for his voluminous science fiction works that championed scientists as social engineers. In short, Asimov, and thus Asimov's, presents a most un-Cagean world view.

But Silverberg's writing about Cage in the context of the world of science fiction is not entirely unfounded. Cage is known to have played poker with the science fiction crowd at the home of Horace Gold in Stuyvesant Town in the 1950s. In his 2004 autobiographical essay, science fiction icon Robert Sheckley remembered him as "...ever silent and smiling, a winner at poker as at so many other things." Cage was an enthusiastic game player -- chess, of course, and poker, but also Scrabble, bridge, solitaire, backgammon, and dominoes. A very large box of his well-used favorite games is held in the archives of the John Cage Trust.

In 2011, the Halberstadt event inspired Nicholas Riddle (seen at right) and his partner, Patrick Stutz, both key figures at Edition Peters and thus in music publishing worldwide, to co-author a diary of their visit. A beautiful encapsulation of the experience! We had traveled together to Halberstadt the year before, when I myself effected the note change, and they were so inspired by the proceedings (and the incredible hospitality of our hosts, Rainer Neugebauer and Martje Hansen) that they quickly arranged for the publication of a special limited edition of Cage's score to be sold at (and for the benefit of) the Organ Project. They've returned annually ever since, with Riddle, as you can see in his diary, effecting one of the note changes in 2011.

Among the frontrunners of divine responses to the Organ Project was, of course, Paul Depprich's as fast/slow as possible, an amazing 8 hour and 23 minute HD recording of a transatlantic flight from Berlin to New York (shot on Aug. 12, 2006, the 14th anniversary of Cage's death). I wrote about this film in an earlier blog ("Three Ends of the Cinematic Spectrum," 26 August 2010), but it bears a reprise here. You can visit my earlier blog to view the extended trailer (32'39"), but here's a Vimeo clip of the exciting 3+ minute take-off. Sadly, no U.S. venue to date has taken the leap of faith required to screen the whole. Happily, however, Depprich has recently released his work in its glorious entirety on Blue Ray, available on his lavish website, which is devoted entirely to this extraordinary work.

Yet another film, directed by the Canadian television and film director Scott Smith entitled As Slow as Possible, chronicles the 2006 pilgrimage to Halberstadt by Ryan Knighton, a Canadian author whose writings include his internationally acclaimed memoirs about going blind, Cockeyed (2006), as well as the more recent C'mon Papa: Dispatches from a Dad in the Dark (2010). The Long Now Foundation (understandably intrigued by the long nowness of the Halberstadt realization of Cage's work) featured a piece by Stuart Candy on Knighton's visit, viewable here.  Knighton himself authored a piece for The Walrus, entitled "Monumental Vibrations," viewable here.  The trailer of this film (which, incidentally, is a very good documentary) can be seen here.


The newest inspiration on the horizon is a film-in-progress by Castles Built in Sand, a young Manchester, U.K. collective that brings together the sound, music, video, and photographic work of Paddy Baxter, Insa Langhorst, Yasmin Samir-Shakir, Huw Wahl, and Simon Connor. Their film is entitled The Song, set in 2640, a time when societies have disintegrated, technology has become useless, and resources have been depleted. All that is left of the old world is a song that has been playing for hundreds of years in a small church in what used to be Germany -- a song that is being played, as its name suggests, As Slow as Possible (Organ2/ASLSP). John Cage, its composer, has reached divine status, and a religious order protecting his legacy has been put into place.

The Song follows three different characters who are hoping to find the church where Organ2/ASLSP is reaching its end (it's rumored that a dramatic revelation awaits the final note).  The protagonists struggle to cross different post-technological environments in far-flung regions of Europe: a ghost town in Italy, the barren outposts of frozen Scandinavia, and the bleak, endless moors of North England.

Comprised almost entirely of black and white analogue stills, The Song pays visual homage to Chris Marker's powerful 28' cinematic essay, La Jetée (interestingly, a 1962 science fiction treasure, the story of a post-nuclear war experiment in time travel). Aurally, it credits John Cage's legacy by placing central emphasis on the equanimity of musical and environmental sounds. This results in a powerful sonic entity that in combination with the narrative becomes the driving force imbuing the images.

Castles Built in Sand is actively fundraising in support of this film.  Take a look at the trailer here, and see if it isn't a good fit for this year's Christmas list.

Laura Kuhn









John Cage on Music Publishing (1959)


In my ongoing work on a volume of collected John Cage Correspondence for Wesleyan University Press, I came across this very thoughtful letter by John Cage on the subject of music publishing.  It struck me that Cage's words here have continuing relevance to today's composers, many of whom find it difficult to disseminate their work.  It is addressed to John Edmunds*, written by Cage on New Year's Eve, 1959, and is transcribed in its entirety below, unadorned.



Shortly after writing this letter, Cage would find a publisher in C.F. Peters/Henmar Press, Inc., an alliance that was not without early turbulence and mishap.  Stay tuned for a blog soon on some of the early exchanges between Cage and Walter Hinrichsen, President of Henmar Press, Inc.


Dear Mr. Edmunds:

You may remember that I approached Schirmers with the project of publishing my music.  Mr. Heinsheimer, after six weeks or so, came to the conclusion that he did not want to have anything to do with it.  This has prompted me to give the question of music publication some thought, the result of which is this letter.

I assume that what is wanted is not just the publication of my music but a solution of the problem of making experimental music available to those who are interested no matter who wrote it.  This is necessary for the encouragement of the musical life (one might say in America, but I mean everywhere).

The following paths are the ones I have thought of:

1.  A composer's cooperative.  This was suggested by Heinz Klaus Metzger and Franco Evangelisti.  Since there suggestion, Evangelisti's music is being published by Universal (Vienna) so that their suggestion is no longer forthcoming.  It could be established here and I know a young man who might organize it.

2.  Publication outside this country.  Universal is willing to handle my music.  I could also, I believe, get it published elaborately with records by Ernst Brucher in Cologne.

3.  Publication by a University in this country.  I am thinking of the University of Illinois or Wesleyan or Dartmouth University.  These three are interested in the music more than others.

4.  The free publication (or distribution) of music by the Public Libraries of this country.

1) does not particularly interest me because it merely extends the business of individual profit and loss to group profit and loss.  I object to 2) on the grounds that I am an American.  3) provides prestige etc. but it is of no help to composers who are not as experienced and famous as I happen to be; it would suffer from weight of the academy.

I am definitely interested in 4).  If it could me made to work it would provide a useful means for the advance of musical life that would continue.  I am willing, that is, to give free of charge my music to the Public Libraries.  I would give up the question of profit from it, only collecting (if I remain a member of ASCAP) royalties from its performance.  Much of this music is on transparencies, so that it could be reproduced.  The rest could be photostatted, or I could gradually put it on transparencies.  It should be made known, if this comes about, that the music is available through the libraries.  That could be, it seems to me, by loan without charge of copies in the library collection or by payment of copying charges, just as it is now possible for me to purchase photostats of certain things at the library.  These privileges, naturally, should be available to foreigners.

Furthermore, this means of publication should be made known as available to any composer, regardless of his fame or quality.  (Just as the Libraries contain all the novels, good, bad, and indifferent.)  The question of available space may arise.  However, not too many people will follow this path since it means the renunciation of profit.

That about covers my thoughts on the subject.  I do hope it interests you.  Conversation would surely elaborate the means.

I, personally, feel very strongly the obligation to get my own music out of my hands.  Even Mr. Heinsheimer said he felt a certain obligation to publish it.  But he said it would only produce a headache for Schirmers.

Satie said somewhere that Beethoven was the first to give his music to a publisher.  It would be a pleasure to establish another means appropriate to another time.

With friendliest greetings,
Sincerely,

John Cage

*John Edmunds (1913-1986) was an American composer and librarian who, from 1957 to 1961, was curator of the Americana Collection (later American Music Collection) of the Music Division of the New York Public Library, where the "John Edmunds Correspondence and Other Papers, 1957-1961" is held.  See Amy C. Beal, "'Experimentalists and Independents are Favored': John Edmunds in Conversation with Peters Yates and John Cage, 1959-1961," in Notes, Vol. 64, No. 4 (June 2008).

Laura Kuhn