NUMBER THREE / FALL 1999 - SPRING 2000


 

Editor's Corner

corner: n. 1. a. The position at which two lines or surfaces meet. b. The immediate interior or exterior or exterior region of the angle formed at this position, bounded by the two lines or surfaces. 2. A vertex, esp. the interior region of a vertex, formed by the sides of roads or streets that join, meet, or intersect. 3. A threatening or embarrassing position, esp. one from which escape is difficult or impossible. 4.a. A part, quarter or region. b. A remote, secluded, or secret place. 5. A guard or decoration fitted on a corner, as of a bookbinding. 6. A speculative monopoly of a stock or commodity created by purchasing all or most of the available supply in order to raise its price.

(The American Heritage Dictionary)



Corner continues to be a site where one may encounter many different voices, a forum where different kinds of codes are received and celebrated. It is a space for the artist and for the scholar, a journal in movement offering ideas and creativity to an open netlinked community of readers. But as was Apollinaire's Croniamental, the editor of these pages felt like a "pilgrim of perdition" or "lost editor" when issue 3 of Corner was not ready for the Fall 1999. But dates are really "arbitrary landmarks, and the world does not alter suddenly because a new number appears on the calendar." [1] So we are extending Fall into the Spring of 2000 and making this issue an in crescendo double issue (meaning we will add more collaborations related to its theme), hoping for more contributors who will begin to see electronic publications as a new expression of our epoch and not as a destroyer of the marvelous printed page.

Leading towards the debunking of intellectual borders, this issue, "John Cage and the Avant-Garde: the U.S. and Catalonia" offers a plurality of approaches to a key figure in the twentieth century international avant-garde and one of the most important bridges of Zen thought to the Western world. [2] Cage regarded music "not as a communication from the artist to an audience, but rather as an activity of sounds in which the artist found a way to let sounds be themselves." [3 ] For Cage, this approach allowed for "open[ing] the minds of the people who made them or listened to them for other possibilities than they had previously considered...To widen their experience: particularly to undermine the making of value-judgements."[4]

David W. Bernstein's "John Cage and the `Project of Modernity': A Transformation of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde" examines Cage's crucial role in the revival of avant-garde aesthetics in the post-war era. His essay is the scholarly platform for Corner 3 which opens a path for a series of different creative approaches to Cage's ideas and influences, as well as other related texts.

Making a connection with Cage's role in music, Lotte Mac Cathmhaoil sent us "9 Cage's Thoughts/9 Pensamientos de Cage." While some of them are like arrows directed to the decentering of the center or to a multiplicity of centers, others are like koans or Zen style questions which awakenen the mind to surprise, laughter, and the ultimate reality. The Spanish translations add to the activity of sounds.

Xavier Canals' "Cage: tan lejano y tan cercano" is a short, but engaging text of how Cage became and continues to be a distant, but familiar figure to many artists. Canals' piece pays homage to Cage's student, the recently deceased Dick Higgins, an important figure for the Catalan visual poets. The text comments on the poor reception that the Fluxus artist still receives in the U.S.

Canals notes historical references related to aleatoric music in Spain, and cites Cage as a key reference and influence in order to be able to progress creatively in any direction. He remembers meeting Cage eighteen years ago at a concert in Cadaqués, an event which provoked the fury of many members of the audience who abandoned the baroque church where it was taking place. He also acknowledges Cage's pioneering role in preparing the piano and how he was fascinated with the unheard sounds his ears were experiencing. In "Cage so far away and so close," Canals laments that one of the few points of disagreement he had with Joan Brossa was his appreciation of Cage's music. For Brossa, the American composer was naive, a curious observation considering how we can find many common links between Brossa and Cage.

As a member of the Editorial Board of Corner, Canals interviewed people in the streets of Barcelona asking about John Cage, but not many were familiar with the composer's name. Among those bold enough to answer him were: Antoni Clapés, Carles Hac Mor and Benet Rossell. But before we talk about their answers, we would like to mention that Canals won high scores in this game interviewing Esther Ferrer, member of the renowned Spanish avant-garde group Zaj, formed by Juan Hidalgo and Walter Marchetti. As did Hidalgo, she studied under Cage and participated in many action-concerts. Ferrer continues to play a fundamental role spreading his ideas. It is interesting to note that during the 1960s, Fluxus' influence in Spain, particularly in Catalonia, was very powerful.

The Canals/Ferrer interview took place after Ferrer's performance in the alternative well-known Metrònom of Barcelona in October of 1999. I would like to give the readers a version in English of their dialogue:

XC: When did you meet John Cage for the first time with?

EF: The group Zaj offered a concert in Pamplona in 1972, and the next year Cage organized a cycle of actions for this group in the U.S. One of them took place at Mills College, and a couple at the Merce Cunningham's studio. For Cage: "Zaj was more NOH than NOH itself (NOH, the Japanese Theater)."

XC: Maybe the most interesting thing would be to talk about CAGE TODAY, what makes him so relevant. The importance in not setting limits.

EF: Yes. The most important thing about Cage is that he taught us how to listen. We can summarize his teachings by saying: "HE MADE OUR EARS BIGGER."

XC: Yes. I remember with emotion one of your essays where you talk about Cage's innovations ("El taller estudio de John Cage") . You wrote that he made us appreciate the ambient sounds that surround us.

EF: Yes, Cage followed the teachings of Henry David Thoreau, an extraordinary American philosopher, who wrote: "Music is love" and "All sound is nearly akin to silence, it is a bubble on her surface" and "THERE IS NO CENTER". (...) Recently I went with my husband to a Congress of Music in Vienna. There I found a very contemporary musician, with a very subtle music, similar to the ambient sounds. His name is Sciarino. Well, I believe I was able to appreciate his music thanks to Cage's teachings. Yes, Cage's great revelation was "NOT TO SET LIMITS"-- non-obstruction.

In order to know more about Ferrer's ideas, I would like to refer readers to the link placed in this interview to Andrew Culver's wonderful "Anarchic Harmony" website. There they will find a letter from Ferrer to Cage dated 1991, where she responds to Cage's question: does anarchy have a future?

Continuing with the answers to Canals' query about Cage's importance these days, we have Antoni Clapés's "Ryoan-ji," a poem "no sound" / "no movement"/ "only the falling dew the moss encroaching upon the white sand" / "this music." Clapés, a lover of silences and spaces, beautifully appreciated Cage's drawings of the Ryoanji Gardens in Kyoto and his use of the I-Ching.

From the serenity of Clapés' poem we enter the piece-essay "Per a un concert sempre incomençat..." by Carles Hac Mor. This "For a concert that never begins..." written in capital letters, gives us the impression of a visual poem when it is in reality an experimental philosophical approach to Cage and the world of noises which surrounds us. We can say "Here Comes Everybody" when Clapés and Canals enter the scene again, followed by Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys and, of course, Cage with sounds and silences under all kind of eyes and ears. Hac Mor, without any doubt, one of the most interesting manipulators of the Catalan language, seems to battle against the overvaluation of art and artists, proposing an exit from categories, and simply provoking an entire range of responses.

Benet Rossell's "MUSICIRCUS" and "I am a catalan" shows once more, as we saw in Corner 1, how he cultivates a very unusual art, not only in painting, but also in writing, making it difficult to classify his work. Painter, poet-philosopher, film maker and playwright, Rossell likes to combine media and bring them together. In "MUSICIRCUS," Rossell, one of the Catalan artists who chose to begin his career in the more open climate of Paris in the late 1960s, tells us about his participation in the Concert-Performance which took place in Les Halle of Paris on October 27, 1970. He mentions how in that macro-spectacle, everybody had a place: musicians, acrobats, belly dancers, painters et al., and how they all expressed their art with freedom. Benet tells us how he organized an exhibition of micro-drawings inside the right pocket of his vest. His performance consisted of moving his original drawings from the right to the left pocket of his vest, an action which he repeated over and over again.

Museum of oneself or oneself as Museum? John Cage visited all the spaces of his MUSICIRCUS, he was interested in all the performances, and he also stopped in front of Rossell, while calmly smoking and observed the artists's performance. Rossell's second contribution to this Corner is the play touched by the Absurd Theatre "I am a catalan," dedicated to Cage. We find one scene covered with roots, bones, junk, rubbish of tools. The characters are the EYE, the LOCK, the EAR, and the DONKEY, and PECULIAR. We witness how the EYE steals the hole of the lock and how the EAR becomes aware of certain sounds.

Esther Xargay's "John Cage, Anarquísticament" is also about the exploration of sounds and the breaking with boundaries. Xargay tries to solve many puzzles related to the spirit of music. She enters into a non-traditional discussion of ideas ranging from the importance of silence and the sound around us as music to the dangers of the being as a static entity; an entity which consumes music, rather than becoming an activist for the "establishment of NonSense."

Antonia de Pons, with the collaboration and authorization of Xavier Canals selected eighteen visual poems related to music by Catalan artists. The selection entitled "Música-Poesía Visual: Del siglo XI a Cage" is accompanied by some reflections about music-visual poetry and reproduces in Spanish some fragments of Canals' essay "Musica-Poesia Visual, Intersecció o Intercomunicació?" This essay was published some years ago in Catalan and discusses Cage's ideas about silence and sounds taking us on a journey through the origins of visual poetry.

Stephen Ratcliffe's "Reading (Cage) Silence" is a triptych consisting of a series of meditations about I. "Lecture on Nothing"; II. "Composition as Process" Changes/Indeterminacy/Communication; III. "Lecture on Something." The author shows his extraordinary language skills, constructing several possible pathways through Cage's work.

Alvin Curran with his "Music I have heard 1982/1998" pays homage to Cage with a list of composers, compositions, places, and sounds (in no particular order) which have remained an integral part of him. Curran, one of the most original of the American experimentalist composers in the twentieth century, is a sure link to Cage and his legacy.

Corner's Avant-Garde Reader offers a selection of mini reviews of books published in the 1990s which we consider essential reading for any avant-garde lover. With this addition to our journal, we begin a section dedicated to book reviews. In addition to providing a scanned image of the book jacket, we present summaries of selected reviews. We have also included a brief bibliography related to Cage and the Avant-Garde, compiled by David W. Bernstein.

I would like to leave this Corner with a personal note that can be considered my homage to John Cage. My first encounter with John Cage took place in 1978 when reading a letter he wrote to the Cuban composer Alejandro García Caturla. Dated March 15, 1939, the letter asked Canturla to send Cage one of his scores and to lend him some Cuban instruments for a concert to be performed to "a sensitive audience of around 400." [5] But my real discovery of John Cage took place years later, in 1991, in Zürich. Invited by Count Von Sägesser, an admirer of Cage's works, I participated in the Junifestwochen of Zürich, an homage to James Joyce/John Cage. Even though Cage was a name I knew before, this was the first time I was introduced to all the possibilities that Cage brought with him. Seeing Europeras 1 & 2 at the Operahaus Zürich was an unforgettable experience, as was viewing John Cage. Partituren, Graphik, Zeichnungen, Aquarelle, an exhibition at the Kunsthaus of Cage scores, notes, drawings and watercolors. To these two unforgettable experiences I would like to add: a program of voices with Tom Stoppard's Travesties, the Lesung in englischer Sparche by David Roscoe, the lectures "Leiter der Zürcher James Joyce Stiftung, spricht zu und um James Joyce" by Fritz Senn, and John Cage's "The Wonderful Window of Eighteen Springs (James Joyce)." The following year and thanks to Alvin Curran, I was led to chance music and began to familiarize myself more with the American experimentalist tradition, with electronic music, prepared pianos, chance, aleatoric music, and all kinds of "happenings."

And as in our former editorials, I need to thank Servando González, the Webmaster of Corner for his design and Renée Jadushlever for her editorial assistance.

CC




[1] Anna Balakian, "Apollinaire and l'Esprit Nouveau." In Surrealism, The Road to the Absolute. Dutton, 1970. 80.

[2] Dada influenced Cage's thoughts. He made a connection between Dada and Zen, "but neither Dada nor Zen is a fixed tangible. They change; and in quite different ways in different places and times, they invigorate action." (John Cage, Silence. Wesleyan University Press, 1961. xi). George Brecht points out in his "Lecture on Dada," how as early as 1922, Tristan Tzara already recognized the relationship of chance poetry and in the role of the artist as a facilitator to Zen: "Dada is not at all modern. It is more in the nature of a return to an almost Buddhist religion of indifference." In Chance Imagery, A Great Bear Pamphlet. New York: Something Else Press, 1964, 3.

[3] In Richard Kostelanetz. The Theater of Mixed Means. New York: The Dial Press, 1968, quoted in David T. Doris, "Zen Vaudeville: A Medi(t)ation in the Margins of Fluxus." In Ken Friedman, ed. The Fluxus Reader. Academy Editions, 1998. 90-135.

[4] In Rick Fields, How the Swans Came to the Lake, 196. Quoted in Doris, "Zen Vaudeville," 96.

[5] Published in Alejandro García Caturla: Correspondencia. Ed. Arte y Literatura, 1978. 379-380.

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