Abuse Cage


J Cage – tapa shared CC by maulurizen

I was sent this fantastic video by my friend and TRU co-conspirator Irwin:

It took me a while to place the voice, but of course it’s John Cage.

I’m reminded of a day more than a decade ago, when I was working as a “course development researcher” for the doomed experimental university TechBC. Essentially, my job was to find existing online media to incorporate into course offerings. I had been tasked by a few professors to find materials related to John Cage, which was how I first came across WFMU. DJ Kenneth Goldsmith (AKA Kenny G) frequently played Cage and other forms of “unpopular music”… I quickly became a fan, and happened to be at my desk listening to the station’s live feed at work one day when he announced that he would be playing Cage’s Empty Words Part III, recorded during a riotous 1977 show in Milan:

…the sonorous event planned by John Cage morphed into an happening, to quote a term dear to Cage, animated by unexpected consequences.

At first the audience listened to the piece intriguingly, but soon enough it realized that the ‘concert’ it was attending was not anything near to what it could be imagined. Some spectators then began to scream, hoot and protest; some even climbed on the stage to disturb Cage’s performance, while he was quietly reading his text sitting at a desk illuminated by a small lamp.

In spite of the mess and the impolite behavior of a part of the audience – someone even took his glasses off temporarily – Cage continued his ‘concert’ until the very end when, quite unexpectedly considering how the show had commenced, the audience burst into a big applause. Everybody agreed that Cage ‘had won’ and that the audience had rightly paid homage to the composer.

Kenny G didn’t just play the recording, but opened up the phone lines so that WFMU listeners could join in and “abuse John Cage”. I have a vivid memory of listening live online (itself something of a novelty in 2001), laughing out loud, realizing I was actually doing my job, and feeling very fortunate in my employment. I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since.

The archive only exists in RealPlayer format. Given the less-than-optimal usability, and seized by nostalgia, I’ve ripped a copy of the segment as an MP3 (41:25 – 30MB). Given Mr. Goldsmith’s oft-expressed views on copying, not to mention his role with UbuWeb and its ethos, I’m presuming he wouldn’t object.

Kenny G on WFMU – Abuse John Cage

See also: Woodie Guthrie’s fan letter to John Cage. And “some rules for students and teachers”, though the question of Cage’s authorship is, well, indeterminate

One thought on “Abuse Cage

  1. brings back many memories – including meeting mr cage in toronto at the masonic hall. in the middle of a snowstorm. a greyhound bus. scotch and roratorio. finnegan’s wake and more besides. loved the man. his voice. his words and his poetry.

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