John Cage 1912-1992: Centennial of a Visionary

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If you ask a thinker like Brian Eno who his biggest inspirations were, he’d tell you John Cage.   In LA, we celebrate his 100th birthday this week with a series of concerts  at the Santa Monica Presbyterian Church, along with works by Erik Satie and others.  Somebody will even perform 4″33″ , Cage’s revolutionary piece that has the pianist sit at the piano and wait in silence for 4’33” to pass (the person who commissioned the work was mad at the first performance, the audience didn’t know what was going on).  As I write, there are Cage centennial celebrations all over the world:  throughout Europe, South Africa, Australia, and other countries.

I did a radio event with Cage during the 1987 Los Angeles Festival, put together by Peter Sellers and heir to the surplus of the great 1984 Olympic Arts Festival so brilliantly designed by Robert Fitzpatrick.  John Cage came to the studio with his yarrow stalks and performed an I Ching chance operation.  I had three tall piles of randomly chosen vinyl records from the various sections of KCRW’s multitudinous library, ranging from Egyptian and Brazilian to funk, soul, avant garde jazz.  With each throw of the stalks, I’d pick a new record from each pile and play it.  All three turntables were playing simultaneously, creating a new musical work.  It was pretty wild.  But what would you expect from a man for whom all sound was music?

Cage exuded a sweetness and calm that I haven’t often encountered in the studio.  He grew up in LA, and told me about going to Los Angeles Philharmonic Hall downtown as a teenager for early concerts by Edgar Varèse conducted by Russian renegade conductor Nicolas Slominsky.  Cage recalled that these early concerts were for him “statements of belief”.  Here is a link to the Jacaranda Festival in Santa Monica this week:

…..and the infamous 4’33”: