Friday, August 31, 2012

From a Diary: I:xxix

An unplanned pause (caesura/gap/absence/rest/fermata/tacet...) due to an out-of-service right hand (a small operation on the index finger is scheduled, annoying and inconvenient but not serious). Ironically appropriate to the moment, I suppose, as I had planned, drafted, edited, tossed out, redrafted, and retossed a long item about John Cage's music today, as a way of filling in this curious gap between the 20th anniversary of his death and the 100th of his birth. I tried to write about my unsettling over Cage performance and reception today, the sense that there are very many very fine and spirited performances of the works and that it is very good for music in general that Cage's music has become an institutional concern and is now played at Juilliard or the Proms, representing an opening for music rather than closure and, in the best circumstances, changing the institution more than the institution changes the music, but with the reservation that many Cage performances are (and always have been) less about the music itself than about the institution or persons presenting the music. But trying to write that item coincided with the discovery that my right hand didn't want to play along, forcing me to type this with my left hand, which was both an invitation to write less rather than more and a reminder of how profoundly right-handed I am. And that was a (useful, like a kick in the pants) reminder that my musical work is not always a balancing act between ear and mind, but a triangulation between ear, mind, and the habits and capacities of my hands. A leap of an octave, for example, is imagined simultaneously as an auditory experience, a mental structure, and a physical exertion, and all three experiences reinforce one another, making each more rather than less vibrant. Lou Harrison, a very physical person (crashing down after executing three perfect pirouettes, Mr Harrison shouted "Why don't they make ballet for fat men anymore?"), criticized Cage, his lifelong friend, as being incapable of moving to music (and thus one source for the Cage/Cunningham separation of dance from music.)  But I think Harrison got Cage wrong here, because Cage, in recognition and affirmation rather than denial of the physicality of sound, found that it was not necessary to identify the physicality of music with that of dance through closely tied, even mimetic movement rather that independence (from dance or decor or film etc.) created space useful for a deeper and more engaged experience, and one which was framed (by a shared time structure, for example), not mediated by parallel activities. The line from this to both La Monte Young's idea of getting inside a sound or the social/political music-making of Christian Wolff is direct and the famous tacet piece (4'33") an example of such (in this case, time-structured) framing at a minimum.  And stop.

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