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FROM THIS EPISODE

Yesterday, September 5, was my birthday, which I share with the late composer John Cage, who was born in LA one hundred years ago. In honor of his centennial, there are a number of performances, exhibitions, events, books and so forth celebrating Cage as one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. Check out Mark Swed's marvelous story in last Sunday's LA Times.

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I'll start by talking about Steve Roden's complex video and sound installation at LACE in Hollywood. Every day in 2011, Roden performed Cage's famous 4'33'', four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. Originally presented in 1952 by David Tudor at Black Mountain College, the piece has had an outsized impact, one aspect being the greater mindfulness required to draw a listener's attention to the ambient sounds within the silence. Cage was truly an original but he was not the only influence on Roden, whose current show acknowledges the impact of dancer Martha Graham and philosopher Walter Benjamin, as well.

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Each of these great figures has become stuck in modern history like a fly in amber, but the potency of their determinedly original methodologies still holds an attraction for contemporary artists like Roden. At LACE, Roden presents Cage-inspired electronic music with videos of a hand opening and closing around seashells and other small objects that once belonged to Graham. Another monitor shows him writing simple words and illustrating them with a few simple lines — wall, wave, constellation -- an homage to Benjamin's theories after he spent time working in the Benjamin archive in Berlin. On other monitors, a postcard of a Sienna cathedral from Benjamin's collection is repeatedly sliced vertically and remixed in a computer-driven deconstruction. Yet, the exhibition as a whole feels sincere and poetic in a way at odds with its technological means. It lives up to its title: Shells, Bells, Steps and Silences. Organized by LACE associate director and curator Robert Crouch, it continues through September 16. Go to www.LACE.org for more information.

cage9.jpg
John Cage and Mountain Lake Workshop
Zen Ox-Herding Pictures: Set One, Number 9, 1988
Watercolor on paper, 9 3/4: x 10 1/4"
© Private collection, reproduced by permission of the John Cage Trust at Bard College

Meanwhile, another exhibition celebrating the centennial of Cage's birth is on view at Pomona College Museum of Art. John Cage: Zen Ox-Herding Pictures continues through December 16. The exhibition focuses on Cage's visual art with 55 watercolors made by him in 1988 that reveal the influence of Zen Buddhism that permeated much of his creative work. Art critic Kay Larson has written a book about this aspect of Cage's life and will give at talk there, Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists on October 11 at 5pm while Roden will perform there on October 25 at 5pm and read from his new book, 365 X 433, his diary about his daily Cage performances. Cage-O-Rama is held at Bridges Hall of Music on October 27 at 8pm. Go to Pomona.edu/museum for information. In Santa Monica, Jacaranda Music offers a great number of concerts by Cage and his cohorts. Go to JacarandaMusic.org.

cage3.jpg
John Cage and Mountain Lake Workshop
Zen Ox-Herding Pictures: Set One, Number 3, 1988
Watercolor on paper, 9 3/4: x 10 1/4"
© Private collection, reproduced by permission of the John Cage Trust at Bard College

 

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