Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How John Cage was totally wired

The apotheosis of the first phase, however, was an extraordinary event called Pseudo Immercion. This grew out of an approach by members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC), whose founder had been in the vanguard of the uptown avant-garde for fifty years and had heard about Pseudo through the art grapevine. At the centre of the event was a performance of Suite for Five, a piece first presented in 1956 to music composed by Cunningham’s late partner, the celebrated composer John Cage, with visuals by the MCDC’s designer and sometime stage manager, pop art godhead Robert Rauschenberg.

As New York as lox, Cunningham and Suite for Five awed the young pseudites, while the dancer rejoiced in the youngsters’ energy and sense of possibility. [Dennis] Adamo and [V. Owen] Bush borrowed a sophisticated Silicon Graphics computer animation system which allowed a delighted Cunningham to make a toy monkey dance as if it were alive, with flesh-and-blood members of the Company scattered and projected across the space in a two-hour symphony of sound and movement. The choreographer’s sound designer even brought the original equipment Cage used for his 1976 performance of Branches, which involved attaching microphones to the quills and flesh of a giant cactus, producing ethereal kalimba-like shudders and pulses when ‘played’ by guests; there were also outsized theremin poles, which created an electrostatic field dancers could ‘play’ in the way of a musical instrument with their motion. In return the Pseudo crew built an orchestra pit filled with experimental instruments mixed according to Cage’s chance-based Fluxus system.
That description of a 1995 happening curated by high profile and short-lived web and TV portal Pseudo.com comes from Andrew Smith’s Totally Wired. Subtitled The Wild Rise and Crazy Fall of the First Dotcom Dream Andrew Smith’s acclaimed book contains many important lessons for classical music; not least how fame mutates into free-floating celebrity, a form of equity whose Wall Street he identifies as the electronic media.There Is an eighteen year disconnect between the text and the images: I took the photos last week at the annual Scopitone digital art festival in Nantes, France. These images can only hint at the power of these installations which use sound as well as light to transmit a very powerful contact high.


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