For someone who placed extraordinary value on silence, and famously incorporated it into his musical compositions, John Cage is making quite a bit of noise. And deservedly so.
Because, it would seem as if, except for fans of experimental music, connoisseurs of the avant garde, and modern dance followers (Cage was the longtime partner of legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham), this American composer’s name does not ring a bell. Or anything else, for that matter. Even a … cactus. Cage, yes, played a cactus like a musical instrument, and it’s right there on YouTube for you to see.
One of his most controversial and best-remembered pieces is 4’33, a composition based on silence. During that time frame, the performer does not play any instrument; only ambient sounds are heard. And this was not done towards the end of his career (Cage died in 1992). This he unleashed in 1952, and yet it is still talked about today.
From Sept. 5 through 8, the South Florida Composers Alliance or SFCA (isaw + subtropics.org) and the FETA Foundation (Foundation for Emerging Technologies and Arts), in partnership with ArtCenter/South Florida, Miami-Dade County Library and PAX (Performing Arts Exchange), are celebrating this unconventionally talented man by holding a series of free events, concerts, and exhibits to remember the Los Angeles-born, world-educated artist who in his later years had a connection with South Florida.
“As far as I know, [Cage] came to Miami four times,” remembers Gustavo Matamoros, sound installation artist, composer, educator, and founder and artistic director of the SFCA and the Subtropics Experimental Music and Sound Arts Festival, which presents audiences with new sound works in diverse contexts (the next edition is in March).
“The first was in 1975. He was in a residency at Broward Community College, and he was there for two or three days. We have footage from that visit,” says Matamoros. “The next time he came was around 1980, 1981, when he visited the University of Miami. I was a student there. We organized some events for him, and then he gave a lecture. After that, in 1988, the New Music America Festival, a big festival, brought around 150 experimental artists to Miami, and he came as part of that. And then what happened, a few months later, I began to organize the Subtropics Festival. In 1991 we had the third Subtropics Festival, and I invited John Cage. I wanted to do four, five different concerts of his music, and one of those concerts was his performance of Empty Words.”
Empty Words serves as the inspiration for a public art installation, which opens on the night of the 5th under the awnings at the ArtCenter, buildings 800 and 810, at the corner of Lincoln Road and Meridian Avenue. That same night, a birthday party celebration will be held at Audiotheque, 924 Lincoln Rd., Studio 201, with diverse electronic offerings, projections of footage of Cage in Miami, and even the baking of a cake.
There’s also another installation at the ArtCenter vitrine based on a piece titled Water Walk, which Cage performed as a contestant on a 1960s TV show, I’ve Got a Secret (other Cage fun facts: besides being a reality TV genre participant way before anyone called it that, Cage studied mushrooms and lichens, subverted language, and found inspiration in the I Ching when composing).
On Thursday at 9:00 p.m., also at Audiotheque, the FETA Foundation presents the live concert American Experimentalists. Friday the action moves, 9:00 p.m., to PAX (337 S.W. 8th St., Miami), where 13 newly commissioned compositions will be performed by FETA’s own Juraj Kojs, each one 4 minutes and 33 seconds long, like Cage’s notorious piece, in a program titled On Silence: Homage to Cage.
And on Saturday, at 3:00 p.m., Miami-based Serbian pianist Marta Brankovic offers a solo piano concert at the Miami-Dade Public Library in downtown Miami (101 W Flagler St.). Later that evening, the events close with Cage: Music & Words, a concert to be held at Audiotheque, with Margaret Lancaster, FETA’s Kojs, and Matamoros. Then, silence.
Why should today’s audiences care about Cage?
“Cage has been very influential, mostly with younger composers,” says Matamoros. “Presenting his music is not just about celebrating his work, but helping to explain where other things come from, and to give them context today.”
“John Cage: A Centennial Celebration,” Sept. 5 – 8, a series of free events at Audiotheque, the Listening Center, and ArtCenter/South Florida Vitrine: for more information, visit https://cagecentennialmiami.wordpress.com/, http://subtropics.org, http://listening-gallery.subtropics.org, http://fetafoundation.org.
This preview also appears in the Miami Sun Post