Woodland Pattern enjoys the silence with John Cage Centennial Celebration
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One reason many people have a hard time getting a handle on a condensed body of work of John Cage is that he was such a polymath. He was a theorist, a composer, a lecturer, visual artist, and a mushroom hunter. As a composer, Cage’s approach to composition operates similarly in principle to sounds in nature—open, atonal, determined by chance. He wrote of the use of “noise” to make music as early as the 1930s, and with his piece 4’33”—which consists of the performer simply showing up and doing nothing, letting whatever’s produced by the ambience of the room be the composition—he became one of noise music’s earliest practitioners, if by default. But his influence isn’t limited to the esoteric. Time after time, when pop music took a turn for the “artsy”—be it Radiohead, Aphex Twin, or Brian Eno—Cage’s ideas were there waiting to guide them, like an Obi-Wan who’d studied under Arnold Schoenberg instead of going to the Jedi Academy.
It can also be said that John Cage was a forefather of club music. As Simon Reynolds pointed out in his indispensable book on rave culture, Generation Ecstasy, Cage prefigured dance music, writing of the need for a “music done by machines and electrical instruments which we will invent.” This “percussion music” would facilitate participation from the listener where “the dancer will be better equipped than the musician to use this vocabulary, for more of the materials are already at his command.” And that was in 1961.
But enough with the history lesson. Woodland Pattern is currently in the thick of some two months of concerts and film screenings celebrating John Cage’s birthday centennial. A Sept. 19 screening of Peter Greenaway’s 4 American Composers also dovetails nicely with Woodland Pattern’s upcoming Nov. 16 Anniversary Gala at Renaissance Place, which will feature the work of Robert Ashley, one of the four Americans featured in Greenaway’s film. (About Ashley’s opera, Perfect Lives, Cage wrote, “What about the Bible? And the Koran? It doesn’t matter. We have Perfect Lives.”)
On Sept. 28, “Piano/Prepared Piano/Toy Piano Concert: Music by John Cage & Others” will be staged at the Florentine Opera Studio, featuring performances by Renato Umali, Paul Gaudynski, Steve Nelson-Raney, Linda Binder, Adam Baus, and Ruben Piirainen. Then, make sure to check out “Electronic Music & Voice Concert: The Music Of John Cage” Oct. 28, featuring local avant-garde notables such as Amanda Schoofs, Heather Warren-Crow, Mark Mantel, Thomas Gaudynski, and Hal Rammel. Rammel is also known as the host of Alternating Currents, a Sunday night WMSE program dedicated to experimental sounds, sometimes also taking place at Woodland Pattern with live music. Finally, on Dec. 9, during Woodland Pattern’s Open House, there will be a showing of The Revenge Of The Dead Indians, Henning Lohner’s tribute to Cage featuring interviews with Frank Zappa, Yoko Ono, Noam Chomsky, Matt Groening, and let’s not forget that inveterate Cageian, Rutger Hauer.
Clearly, Milwaukeeans will have very little to complain about in these coming months, especially if they like to support aleatory composition, chance operation, and sitting in apparent silence.
(For more Cage-inspired events, visit Woodland Pattern’s website.)