Tuesday, August 12, 2008

In a Landscape


Number of recordings of John Cage's works in UK CD catalogue:

In a Landscape (1948) - 12
Sonatas and Interludes (1948) - 11
Bacchanale (1940) - 8
Five (1988) - 8
The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs (1942) - 7
Second and Third Construction in Metal (1940-1941) - 6
Four (1989) - 4
Concerto for Prepared Piano and Orcestra (1951) - 3

As John Cage would almost certainly have agreed, the numbers don't lie, and In a Landscape is surely his most accessible work. It was composed, together with his Suite for Toy Piano, at Black Mountain College, North Carolina in 1948. Cage was at the college to present a festival of music by Eric Satie, a composer whose influence can be heard in the meditative and hypnotic study for solo piano. Black Mountain College was recognised as one of the leading progressive schools in the States, and Cage taught there in 1948 and 1952. Lou Harrison was head of its music department in 1952 and he staged what is considered to be the first ever multi-media happening with participation from John Cage, Merce Cunningham, David Tudor, and Charles Olson.

John Cage died sixteen years ago today on 12 August, 1992 and is now recognised as being a major force in the experimental arts scene. Sadly the same cannot be said for Black Mountain College. Here is what happened when, then Hofstra University professor, Douglas Brinkley went searching for Black Mountain College in the North Carolina landscape in 1992.


'Exit 65, Black Mountain, North Carolina, was home of a celebrated experimental arts school of the 1950s. (We) raced into the Black Mountain Family Restaurant for coffee to go, planning to inquire about the location of what once was Black Mountain College, an educational community active from 1933 to 1956, hoping we might be able to pay the grounds an early-morning visit. I asked a tobacco-chewing old-timer in overalls and a Braves cap -Milwaukee, that is- whether he knew its location. "The only Black Mountain school I know is the primary school across the street," he snorted, scratching a U.S. Navy ancor tattoo that took up a good portion of his right arm.

From his loutish, unforthcoming reply, he immediately struck me as a person free of prejudice, despising all humans equally. Nonetheless I persisted, providing a brief précis of the famous experimental college where poets could study with Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Ed Dorn and Robert Creeley, where Franz Kline and Robert Rauschenberg taught painting, where John Cage and David Tudor taught music and Merce Cunningham taught modern dance.

A dim bulb lit in the old-timer's memory palace, and at last he gave evidence that he understood what I was talking about. "We ran that bunch of crazies out of here forty years ago," he intoned as he spit tobacco juice into an empty jelly jar. "You won't find any of them fruitcakes around here. They're all dead from AIDS or are in prison, I'm sure," raising his voice loudly enough to burnish his well-established reputation as a local kingfish and a Jesse Helms follower.'


* Photos were taken by me at the 2008 John Cage happening in Bruges, in fact I'm in the one below.
* In a Landscape is in the low priced Minimal Piano Collection

* Two of Cage's vocal works in that list of his greatest hits are on the CD featured in There is no difference between life and death.
* Quotation is from the highly recommended, but sadly out of print, The Majic Bus by Douglas Brinkley which has already featured on the path.
* Interview with Lou Harrison here.
* Primary sources included CageTalk edited by Peter Dickinson and The Roaring Silence, John Cage a Life by David Revill.
* And more John Cage resources than you can shake a prepared piano at here.


Photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

1 comment:

Garth Trinkl said...

Pliable, your mention of John Cage in Bruges, obliges me to report here that the great Renaissance musicologist, Edward E. Lowinsky (with whom I studied briefly), taught at Black Mountain College from 1942 to 1947.

(Lowinsky was born 100 years ago in Germany. He lived in Holland from 1933 to 1939; after which he moved to the United States and became a U.S. citizen. Igor Stravinsky wrote the forward to his 1961 volume "Tonality and Atonality in Sixteenth-Century Music".)