Tuesday, January 26, 2010

John Cage at Seventy: An Interview, Stephen Montague

From "American Music" Summer 1985

John Cage hardly needs an introduction. Nineteen eighty-two was the year of his seventieth birthday and marked over half a century of creative activity. Celebrations were worldwide for the artist and man who has become one of the most important and influential composers of this century.

The following material is taken from interviews the author conducted with Cage on March 18, 1982, at Cage's loft on West 18th Street, New York, and on May 29, 1982, before a live audience during the "Cage at 70" weekend at the Almeida Festival, London, England. The photographer Mark Haven was present during the New York interview, and the critic Keith Potter was present during the London interview. The entire "Cage at 70" was filmed by Peter Greenaway (TransAtlantic Films) for a forthcoming documentary on Cage. Brief excerpts from this interview have appeared in Classical Music (May 22, 1982): 11, and in Contact, no. 25 (Autumn 1982): 30.

Stephen Montague: You are seventy years old on September 5. What are the best and the worst things about being your age? What are some of your reflections?

John Cage: Well, I have a friend named Doris Dennison, who is seventy-four and whose ninety-six-year-old mother lives alone in Oregon and is still taking care of herself. Doris called her one day and asked how she was. Mrs. Dennison said: "Oh, I'm fine, it's just that I don't have the energy I had when I was in my seventies."

My attitude toward old age is one of gratitude for each day. Poor Henry David Thoreau died at age forty-four. You know he had the habit of walking through the streets of Concord in the dead of winter without any clothes on, which must certainly to have disturbed the local citizens no end. Later there was a lady who each year would put flowers on Emerson's grave and mutter as she would pass Thoreau's: "And none for you, you dirty little atheist!" Anyway, as I get older and begin to be almost twice as old as Thoreau, I am naturally grateful for all this time. It strikes me that since there's obviously a shorter length of time left than I've already had, I'd better hurry up and be interested in whatever I can. There's no fooling around possible. No silliness. So where I used to spend so much of my time hunting mushrooms, I've recently become interested in indoor gardening. I now tend to spread myself thinner and thinner. I'm always looking for new ways of using my energy but meanwhile continuing the other activities.

About five or six years ago, I was invited to make etchings at the Crown Point Press in California. I accepted immediately, even though I didn't know how to make them, because about twenty years before, I was invited to trek in the Himalayas, and didn't. I later discovered that the walk was going to be on elephants with servants, and I've always regretted that missed opportunity. I thought I was too busy. I am now multiplying my interests because it is my last chance. I don't know what will turn up next. The doctor told me at my age anything can happen. He was right. I got rid of arthritis by following a macrobiotic diet; work is now taking on the aspect of play; and the older I get the more things I find myself interested in doing. If you don't have enough time to accomplish something, consider the work finished once it's begun. It then resembles the Venus da Mio, which manages quite well without an arm.

Montague: What are some of your other current interests?

Cage: Macrobiotic cooking within the last ten years. If I have the chance, I am going to do a macrobiotic cookbook in collaboration with Allison Knowles. It will resemble my mushroom book, which is part of my book called M. In other words, instead of just being about cooking, it will be about everything that interests me. But I will arrange the use of chance operations so that cooking comes up more than anything else.

Montague: Do you have any regrets, anything you might have done differently as you review your seventy years?

Cage: You mean, how would I re-create the past? Well, I said long ago that if I were to live my life over again, I would be a botanist rather than an artist. At that time the botanist Alexander Smith asked me why. And I said: "To avoid the jealousies that plague the arts. Because people think of art so often as self-expression." I don't, but so many people do. "And therefore, if their work is not receiving what they consider proper attention, they then feel unhappy about it and get offended." One of my teachers, Adolf Weiss, got very angry at me simply because I became famous. He was sure I was, in some way, being dishonest, because he had been honest all his life and he'd never become famous. So he was sure I was doing something wrong and evil. But when I said to Alexander Smith that I would like to change my life by being a botanist, he said that showed how little I knew about botany. Then later in the conversation I mentioned some other botanist, and he said: "Don't mention his name in my house!" So I think that all human activities are characterized in their unhappy forms by selfishness.

Montague: What was your earliest interest in composition? Were you interested as a child?

Cage: No, I was interested in music. You are not taught in school to become a composer. I think what you are taught in school is to become a poet. So much emphasis is put on reading and writing. So if you feel like making something new, I think the tendency is to make poetry. And I'll bet you a nickel that everyone who has gone to public school has written a poem. Music and things like that are put after hours, so to become interested in music you had to have some special inclination, and I had it. But in school, when I signed up for the glee club, they said we'll have to test your voice. They tested it and informed me that I didn't have one. So within school I was not a musician, but outside of school I studied the piano with my Aunt Phoebe. Mother and Dad bought me a piano.

Montague: Your father was an inventor. What were some of his inventions?

Cage: He invented a submarine that held the world's record in 1913 for staying underwater. But it ran by means of a gas engine, so it left bubbles on the surface, and you could tell where it was. It never occurred to him that it would be important to hide. When he saw that people wanted to travel underwater secretly, he then invented a way to discover them. It was used in World War I in the English Channel to detect German submarines. When he died he was working on space travel without the use of fuel. In other words, the release from or acceptance of gravity.

Montague: Where did he do his training?

Cage: Out of the blue. He never graduated from high school.

Montague: My grandfather was also an inventor and had a similar background with no real formal training. He was the inventor of the snap clothes pin, double-ended toothpick, hard-surface paper plate, book matches, and other such things, but never graduated from high school.

Cage: Right, inventors don't have to.

Montague: It was that era when the explosion of inventions was just beginning. So did your father encourage you in music, or did he want you to follow his work?

Cage: He wanted me to follow his work. He was nominally an electrical engineer, but I always felt like that humorous writer for the New Yorker who wrote a beautiful article on how frightened he was about being shocked by electricity. I always had that feeling about electricity, whereas my father evidently didn't.

Montague: Didn't you once say that your early work in electronic music was somewhat terminated because of your fear of electrical shock?

Cage: Well, it isn't exactly terminated, but there was a concert I gave with David Tudor in the late 1950s or early 60s in New Jersey where everything we touched gave us a shock. It must have been a very amusing concert because we were always jumping. Everything we touched shocked us. Everything!

Montague: That must be one of your definitions of a nightmare. Did you continue?

Cage: Yes, but we couldn't escape. We were constantly shocked everywhere.

Montague: Do you have any interest in pop music?

Cage: No, but every now and then I'm obliged to be curious because someone says, for example, Brian Eno likes my work very much. So what do I think of his? I don't have a playing machine, so it's awkward to find out. Recently I've been making etchings in California, and most of the artists that go to the Crown Point Press like to have music played while they are working. So there is a sound system. Realizing that, I asked them if they had some Brian Eno I could hear, and they did. So I heard some. What I liked about it were the silences in it. What I didn't like about it was the fact that after each silence the same kind of thing happened that happened after the first silence-or before the first silence. He had too much of an idea plus the idea of silence, and I liked that idea.

Also the silence had a kind of unpredictable length.

Montague: Earning a living as a composer in any era has traditionally been difficult. How old were you when you could really say you were earning a living just as a composer?

Cage: Well, I began to make money not from actually writing music but from lecturing, concerts, and all such things, what you might call the paraphernalia of music, not until I was fifty. But then I did. Now I could get along without giving any concerts if I chose to live in a poor corner of the world. My income from my past work is sufficient to live on in a very modest situation. I used to suggest to Merce Cunningham that it was time to retire, and he said: "Where would you go?" And I said: "To Bolivia." He said: "Why?" So I said: "Because surely no one there is interested in modern music." I'd like to be somewhere where the phone doesn't ring. You see I refuse to have an answering service. I consider it a form of twentieth-century immorality.

Montague: In what way?

Cage: Well, it means that you disconnect yourself from the society. And it will. It's a form of selfishness.

Montague: Do you have your name in the telephone book?

Cage: No, I don't, but that's not my wish. That's Merce's wish because he's involved with a large company of dancers and a school, so if his name were in the phone book, it would be awful. Anyway, people find out what your number is whether it's in the book or not.

Montague: The photographer Mark Haven has commented that in your loft there is more a suggestion of contemporary graphics, with the jasper Johns prints and so forth, than music. There does seem to be very little suggestion of your work as one walks around.

Cage: Well maybe, except there was an Italian article recently with photos about this loft which said it was musical. Everything here is as visible as sound is audible. The pictures unevenly placed are like notes on a staff. But the thing about this place that is musical is the street noise from Sixth Avenue.

Montague: Do you like all the noise?

Cage: I love it!

Montague: You don't have double glass on your windows. Is that because you've always been fascinated with sound, noise, and so forth?

Cage: I became very interested in noise a long time ago through Oscar Fishinger, who made abstract films. He made a remark that impressed me: "Everything has a spirit and that spirit can be released by setting whatever it is into vibration." That started me off hitting things, striking them, rubbing them, working with percussion, and getting interested in noise. I wouldn't dream of getting double glass because I love all the sounds. The traffic never stops, night and day. Every now and then a horn, siren, screeching brakes, extremely interesting and always unpredictable. At first I thought I couldn't sleep through it. Then I found a way of transposing the sounds into images so that they entered into my dreams without waking me up. A burglar alarm lasting several hours resembled a Brancusi.

Montague: Tell me more about Bolivia.

Cage: The funny thing is that this loft is Bolivia. See this is the Avenue of the Americas, and if you look out the window you'll see a plaque that says Bolivia. For years I'd been saying I wanted to live in Bolivia, so I could have found this apartment not by searching as I did, but by simply going to it. Coming here to the Avenue of the Americas.

Montague: Surely in seriousness.

Cage: You think I'm not serious?

Montague: But surely Bolivia is not politically the most savory country you could pick.

Cage: It's not very good here in the United States either.

Montague: Is there some place else where you'd prefer to live? Say politically?

Cage: On the moon.

Montague: I think you'd have other problems there... but you'd probably be the only composer.

Cage: That's how I invented the prepared piano.

Montague: On the moon?

Cage:... because I was the only composer around.

Montague: Wait, let's run that back again.

Cage: Well, in 1938 Syvilla Fort, a magnificent black dancer/choreographer in Bonnie Bird's company at the Cornish School in Seattle, was giving a dance program on Friday, and I was the only composer around. She asked me to make the music for this bacchanalia. The space was small, and there was no room for percussion, only room enough for a grand piano. So I had to do something suitable for her on that piano. And that's what happened. She asked me on a Tuesday. I got to work quickly and finished it by Thursday.

Montague: Were you trying to re-create African or oriental music?

Cage: At that time, because I had recently been studying with Arnold Schoenberg, I wrote either twelve-tone music or percussion music. I first tried to find a twelve-tone row that sounded African, and I failed. So then I remembered how, the piano sounded when Henry Cowell strummed the strings or plucked them, ran darning needles over them, and so forth. I went to the kitchen and got a pie plate and put it and a book on the strings and saw that I was going in the right direction. The only trouble with the pie plate was that it bounced. So then I got a nail, put it in, and the trouble was it slipped. So it dawned on me to wind a screw between the strings, and that was just right. Then weather stripping and so on. Little nuts around the screws, all sorts of things. I invited Mark Tobey and Morris Graves over to listen to it, and they were delighted. And so was Syvilla, and so was I, and so was my wife, Xenia. We were all so happy, happy as could be. When Lou Harrison came over and heard it, he said: "Oh dammit! I wish I'd thought of that!"

Montague: Recently I played some of your prepared-piano pieces in Montevideo, Uruguay, and a young composer ran up on stage after the concert, looked in the piano, and said nearly the same thing: "Dammit man, why I could not think of that!"

Cage: That's the trouble, of course, for any individual. There is the rest of society and the rest of history. I think we have to take that circumstance as the means upon which we work to help us discover the nature of the next step, rather than taking it as something to lament. That's what my father would have done.

Montague: You said in a lecture: "The past must be invented, the future must be revised. Doing both makes what the present is. Discovery never stops." Is the avant-garde dead?

Cage: People ask what the avant-garde is and whether it's finished. It isn't. There will always be one. The avantgarde is flexibility of mind. And it follows like day, the night from not falling prey to government and education. Without the avant-garde nothing would get invented. If your head is in the clouds, keep your feet on the ground. If your feet are on the ground, keep your head in the clouds.

Montague: How would you describe your politics?

Cage: I'm an anarchist. I don't know whether the adjective is pure and simple, or philosophical, or what, but I don't like government! And I don't like institutions! And I don't have any confidence in even good institutions. Just recently ... well you know how interested the English composer Cornelius Cardew was in politics. He made the mistake of being interested in what he would consider "good government." Good communist government. And now that the poor fellow is dead, the friends around him want to start institutions in his memory to further the institutions in which he was interested. I think that we should be sad that we have lost an individual, Cornelius Cardew at only forty-five, and look around for someone else who was as sensitive and open to changes. But not form an institution in memory of him, which I would certainly not support. I won't even support something like the Wilderness Society, and I love mushrooms, the forest, and all that. But I hate what those institutions are doing to them. Do you know what they do? They buy up a big piece of what you might call wilderness, or waste land, land that no industry or metropolis has thought suitable for a city or factory. Then they make rules that you can't pick anything. You have to approach the whole thing as a museum. And they are turning the whole of nature into museums in the name of saving the wilderness, but with no good reason or purpose.

Montague: What would you do as an alternative?

Cage: I would let it all go to heaven and to hell at the same time. That happens automatically. There's a poem by e e cummings: "sweet spontaneous earth." Have you read it? He says in it: "we poke and prod thee and thou answereth us only with spring." Look at the highway on the Hudson River which is not being used any longer. Walk on it, and you'll see that plants are growing up through the cement. Even in England, which seems to be such a small place, there seems to be plenty of land.

Montague: I grew up in Florida which, over the years since I've been away, has been ravaged by greedy land developers, and now the East Coast and much of the West Coast is a neon nightmare, a kind of formica monument to poor taste, bad planning, and avarice at its lowest level. How does one deal with this kind of greed?

Cage: There is no way. I don't think there is any way to deal with it; except I think the best thing to do is to do something through affirmative action rather than political action.

Montague: Affirmative in what sense? How would you do it? Stop it?

Cage: No, not stop it. Discourage it through your lack of interest in it. When you see all these detergents and things, just don't buy them anymore. I think the best way to get rid of government-which is the source of a lot of this, because the government is on the side of the developers and on the side of the factories and all that-is to embarrass the government out of existence. We have really ruined Puerto Rico and now El Salvador and many other places. I think we have to embarrass the government out of existence.

Montague: How?

Cage: By not voting. By not accepting their offer of letting us vote. By refusing any connection with the government. Thoreau said: "Government is a tree, its fruit are people. As people ripen, they drop from the tree"-his Essay on Civil Disobedience.

Montague: Do you pay taxes, or do you follow Thoreau's example?

Cage: I keep on paying my taxes which Thoreau wouldn't have done, but I do it in order to be free of the things the government could do to me in revenge. I want to be able to continue my work, so in that situation I do what the government requires, but no more. Thoreau didn't because he could continue his work, in which no one was interested while he was alive, whereas my situation is the reverse. Many, many people are interested in what I am doing, so I must continue. When Thoreau gave a lecture, only two or three people turned up, and when he published a book, he had to give it away. No one would buy them.

Montague: I know you are a great admirer of Thoreau. If you could speak with anyone else of the past eras, whom would you like to talk with?

Cage: James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Erik Satie. If we went back further, I wouldn't mind meeting Mozart. I think he was a great musician. I like his ten dency toward complexity and away from unity. I would let Bach stay on his side of the street, and I also wouldn't bother with Beethoven or Haydn.

Montague: Why not Haydn? I would have thought you'd be interested in his inventive quality.

Cage: No, it's not inventive. It's simpleminded. The cadences are impossible!

Montague: How about some composers in the nineteenth century? Wagner for instance?

Cage: I would have enjoyed meeting Grieg.

Montague: Grieg? Why Grieg?

Cage: Well, he had an independent mind. He was able to write all those fifths when they were forbidden in what was considered good writing.

Montague: How about people in other fields like literature, painting, poetry?

Cage: Well, I think anybody in his right mind would have enjoyed meeting Leonardo. Joyce loved the work of Ibsen, did you know that? Dostoyevski, but then I would have had to learn Russian. I'm very glad to be alive in the twentieth century with respect to painting. I don't find previous periods of painting as interesting as it is now, but Giotto might have been interesting. I would like to have known Johannes Eckhart, a contemporary of Dante. And I would have dearly loved to have seen Milarepa floating in the form of a thistle over the landscape of Tibet. Milarepa was the great Tibetan saint, if saint is the right word, or yogi, whatever.

Montague: You studied Zen Buddhism in the 1940s and '50s, which had a great influence on you. How much does the I Ching govern your life? Do you throw the I Ching each morning?

Cage: My life, as you can imagine from what I said earlier, is not governed. And certainly not by the I Ching. I attempt to move according to circumstances. I now have 200 plants, and when I'm home, they have first priority. I spend the first two hours of each day without the I Ching taking care of them. I use the I Ching when it is useful, just as I turn on the water faucet when I want a drink. I find the I Ching useful to answer questions, and when I have questions, I use it. Then the answers, instead of coming from my likes and dislikes, come from chance operations, and that has the effect of opening me to possibilities that I hadn't considered. Chance-determined answers will open my mind to the world around.

Montague: What was a recent question you asked the I Ching?

Cage: Gregory Rose and Michael Nyman had arranged a number of my works to be performed on the Almeida Festival, London. Michael had read my own criticism of a program a few years ago at the Whitney Museum where I said that I found my music very boring when it was played too seriously. So he suggested we liven up the situation in some way. I had done a "circus" of my music at San Diego a number of years ago by having quite a few of my works played simultaneously using chance operations to determine the number of times each piece was repeated during the event. I did a similar thing in London. A "circus" of simultaneous events in a derelict church. I knew the desired length of the concert and found out from the I Ching when a work was to be played. The problem here is that you have to ask practical questions. For example, the same person cannot play in two different pieces that are being performed simultaneously.

Montague: Most composers like some of their own works better than others or at least feel some are more important than others. Which piece or pieces of yours would you consider the most important?

Cage: Well the most important piece is my silent piece, 4'33".

Montague: That's very interesting. Why?

Cage: Because you don't need it in order to hear it.

Montague: Just a minute, let me think about that a moment.

Cage: You have it all the time. And it can change your mind, making it open to things outside it. It is continually changing. It's never the same twice. In fact, and Thoreau knew this, and it's been known traditionally in India, it is the statement that music is continuous. In India they say: "Music is continuous, it is we who turn away." So whenever you feel in need of a little music, all you have to do is to pay close attention to the sounds around you. I always think of my silent piece before I write the next piece.

Montague: Where was it first performed?

Cage: In Woodstock, New York, 1952, in a hall quite suitably called the Maverick Hall, which was out in the woods. The back of the hall was open to the forest, and it was performed on a program of piano music given by David Tudor.

Montague: How did you come to compose a piece which is silence?

Cage: I had thought of it already in 1948 and gave a lecture which is not published, and which won't be, called: "A Composer's Confessions." And it was given as a lecture at Vassar College in a course of a festival involving artists and thinkers in all fields. Among those was Paul Weiss, who taught philosophy at Yale University. I was just then in the flush of my early contact with oriental philosophy. It was out of that that my interest in silence naturally developed. I mean it's almost transparent. If you have, as you do in India, nine permanent emotions, and the center one is the one without color-the others are white or black-and tranquillity is in the center: freedom from likes and dislikes. It stands to reason the absence of activity, which is also characteristically Buddhist well, if you want the wheel to stop, and the wheel is the Four Noble Truths: the first is "Life is Activity," sometimes translated "Life is Pain." If the wheel is to be brought to a stop, the activity must stop. The marvelous thing about it is when activity comes to a stop, what is immediately seen is that the rest of the world has not stopped. There is no place without activity. Oh there are so many ways to say it. Say I die as a person. I continue to live as a landscape for smaller animals. I just never stop. Just put me in the ground, and I become part and parcel of another life, another activity. So the only difference between activity and inactivity is in the mind. And the mind that becomes free of desire, Joyce would agree here, free of desire and loathing-that's why he said he was so involved with comedy, because tragedy is not free from these two. So when the mind has become in that way free, even though there continues some kind of activity, it can be said to be inactivity. And that's what I have been doing, and that's why the critics are so annoyed with my work. Because they see that I am denying the things to which they are devoted.

Montague: What other works of yours do you feel have also been very important?

Cage: All the others.

Montague: All of the others, but the silent piece stands above the rest.

Cage: It's more radical. I think the pieces since the silent piece, in a sense, are more radical than the ones that precede it, though I had an inclination toward silence that you can discern in very early pieces written in the 1930s. One of my early teachers always complained that I no sooner started than I stopped. You can see that in the Duet for Two Flutes or in those early piano pieces that are written in the '30s. Then I'm always introducing silence right near the beginning when any composer in his right mind would be making things thicker and thicker. I was getting thinner and thinner.

Montague: Your music often suffers bad performances because it looks easy

Cage: And we don't have to practice it, right?

Montague: What can a composer who writes music that looks deceptively easy do to defeat this kind of attitude in performers? Try to give them some insight into the difficulties of "simple" music?

Cage: I don't think you can do that. You have to do what I did for a recent performance of my Thirty Pieces for Five Orchestras at the Metz Festival in France. I had written into the contract that there were to be ten rehearsals devoted entirely to this work. That is to say, thirty hours of rehearsal. About three-quarters of the way through rehearsals, the musicians obviously became interested in what they were doing. So interested that they wanted to hear it. Every time they had a chance they would leave the group and go out and listen, then go back. The performance was excellent! Do not write for an orchestra unless you have in the contract, some way that will hurt them, plenty of rehearsals. In other words, you have to get them into a situation in which they have nothing else to do but that work. Then while they're working, they'll become interested. But there is no way, as they say, to lead a horse to water and make him drink. You can't be sure that they'll get interested even though you make a time length in which they might, but that's the first step. Nothing else will work because you can write books galore as I have ... they won't read them. And even bright people won't read them. In Metz some of the musicians got interested in a way I would never have imagined. One man came up to me and said: "I like this music. It has pulse." Well that was the last thing I would have thought that it had!

Montague: What outstanding works besides your own works spring to mind if I were to ask you for some works you've heard that were written since say 1945?

Cage: I think that piece with the Spanish title Hay una mujer desaparecida, by Christian Wolff is a wonderful piece. I don't know his work sufficiently well, but I think his work is important. I thought Alvin Curran's For Cornelius on the March 13 "Wall to Wall Cage" marathon (New York) was very touching. I think the music of David Tudor is extraordinary. You see my situation is such that I write music all day, and I don't hear a great deal. So I don't know that my answer to you is of any use to anyone but me.

Montague: You have been using texts taken from James Joyce for at least forty years. In one of your recent works, Roaratorio, an Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake, you read another setting of Finnegans Wake along with a sixteen-channel tape and eight Irish musicians performing their instruments around the audience. You seem to have a great fascination with Irish culture. Are you of Irish descent?

Cage: No, I'm an Englishman. I have a little French blood and a little Scottish blood, and perhaps some Swedish blood. I would love to have some Irish blood, but I don't. Maybe if I were ill and had to have a transfusion in Dublin, or even New York, I could have some Irish blood.

Montague: Do you always drink Guinness, or Irish whiskey?

Cage: Well, now I don't drink alcohol because of my macrobiotic diet. It's a funny thing. I don't have any desire for it either. But when I was drinking, it was a very fine single malt whiskey. Let's see, what do I like to drink now? I guess I like water. (laughter) It quenches the thirst.

Montague: Do you smoke?

Cage: I used to smoke at least three packs a day. Everything that happened was a signal to light a cigarette. Finally I divided myself into two people: one who knew he'd stopped, the other who didn't. Every time the one who didn't know picked up a cigarette to light it, the other one laughed until he put it down.

Montague: Do you ever go to the cinema?

Cage: No.

Montague: What do you do for leisure?

Cage: I don't have any leisure. It's not that I have my nose to the grindstone. I enjoy my work. Nothing entertains me more than to do it. That's why I do it. So I have no need for entertainment. And my work is not really fatiguing, so that I don't need to relax. Merce's work is physically tiring, so he likes to look at television. But I don't so much enjoy that. Or put me down in a situation where I have plenty of energy and I'm not permitted to do my work, then I'll look at television.

Montague: I was interested in your comments on Watergate in your talk during the Almeida Festival.

Cage: "Watergate: It took Americans 200 years to produce its own form of theater. Compare The Persians by Aeschylus, Noh drama, boredom, fascination. The only time I wrote any music was between 12:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M. when the Senators went to lunch."

Montague: And what was it you said about interruptions?

Cage: "Divide the work to be done into parts and the time into equal numbers. Then you can proceed giving equal attention to each of the parts. Or you could say, study being interrupted. Take telephone calls as unexpected pleasures. Free the mind from its desire to concentrate. Remain open to what you can't predict. I welcome whatever happens next."

Montague: This is your seventieth year-the beginning of a new decade for you. Your life-style and the macrobiotic diet seem to agree with you. You're in good health and seem very fit.

Cage: I'm gradually learning how to take care of myself. It has taken a long time. It seems to me that when I die, I'll be in perfect condition.

Stephen Montague is an American concert pianist and composer presently based in London. He has toured extensively throughout Europe and the Americas and most recently had done a series of broadcasts on American music for the BBC.

Above copied from: http://www.ubu.com/papers/cage_montague_interview.html

Monday, January 25, 2010


Art is one of the ways that people communicate. It is difficult for me to imagine a serious person attacking any means of communication per se. Our real enemies are the ones who send us to die in pointless wars or to live lives which are reduced to drudgery, not the people who use other means of communication from those which we find most appropriate to the present situation. When these are attacked, a diversion has been established which only serves the interests of our real enemies.

However, due to the spread of mass literacy, to television and the transistor radio, our sensitivities have changed. The very complexity of this impact gives us a taste for simplicity, for an art which is based on the underlying images that an artist has always used to make his point. As with the cubists, we are asking for a new way of looking at things, but more totally, since we are more impatient and more anxious to go to the basic images. This explains the impact of Happenings, event pieces, mixed media films. We do not ask any more to speak magnificently of taking arms against a sea of troubles, we want to see it done. The art which most directly does this is the one which allows this immediacy, with a minimum of distractions.

Goodness only knows how the spread of psychedelic means, tastes, and insights will speed up this process. My own conjecture is that it will not change anything, only intensify a trend which is already there.

For the last ten years or so, artists have changed their media to suit this situation, to the point where the media have broken down in their traditional forms, and have become merely puristic points of reference. The idea has arisen, as if by spontaneous combustion throughout the entire world, that these points are arbitrary and only useful as critical tools, in saying that such-and-such a work is basically musical, but also poetry. This is the intermedial approach, to emphasize the dialectic between the media. A composer is a dead man unless he composes for all the media and for his world.

Does it not stand to reason, therefore, that having discovered the intermedia (which was, perhaps, only possible through approaching them by formal, even abstract means), the central problem is now not only the new formal one of learning to use them, but the new and more social one of what to use them for? Having discovered tools with an immediate impact, for what are we going to use them? If we assume, unlike McLuhan and others who have shed some light on the problem up until now, that there are dangerous forces at work in our world, isn´t it appropriate to ally ourselves against these, and to use what we really care about and love or hate as the new subject matter in our work? Could it be that the central problem of the next ten years or so, for all artists in all possible forms, is going to be less the still further discovery of new media and intermedia, but of the new discovery of ways to use what we care about both appropriately and explicitly? The old adage was never so true as now, that saying a thing is so don´t make it so. Simply talking about Viet Nam or the crisis in our Labor movements is no guarantee against sterility. We must find the ways to say what has to be said in the light of our new means of communicating. For this we will need new rostrums, organizations, criteria, sources of information. There is a great deal for us to do, perhaps more than ever. But we must now take the first steps.

Dick Higgins
New York
August 3, 1966

Published in:
Wolf Vostell (ed.): Dé-coll/age (décollage) * 6, Typos Verlag, Frankfurt - Something Else Press, New York, July 1967

above copied from:http://www.artpool.hu/Fluxus/Higgins/intermedia2.html