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<<  -- 4 --  Jennifer Paull    UNCAGED JOHN


Light dawns. 'ONE', written upon the back page information of the sepia CD, predates the green, as I have now discovered its copyright date.

Undaunted, fortified, and with a further machine percolating the coffee bean, I decode the second spiral of my choice -- 'ONE'. I feel sure John Cage would not wish me to change the order in which free choice affected my selection. This is also part of the random factor, is it not? I could be forgiven for thinking that 'THE FIRST RECORDINGS' indicate that the Green CD predated the sepia. Is this simply some conventional, inner clock telling me that green spring precedes sepia autumn in the earthly hemisphere in which I write? How mundanely predictable of me!

'These number pieces represent Cage's final project, his last wholesale rethinking of the intertwined ritual-assumptions of performing and listening to what we call "music". Over the last five years of his life, John Cage wrote some 45 compositions that bear a number, often with an additional number as superscript, as their only title. I bring up these points because they also describe Cage's deployment of musical sounds in these "number pieces", the fleeting and fragile sense of "Illegal" or "anarchic" harmony (his description) that he seemed to get closer to in these last years. Unlike a title like "concerto in G major" or "pictures at an exhibition", Cage's numbers are prescriptive rather than descriptive, and convey information that is joyfully obvious and basic to the act of making music: the first number indicates the number of performers while the second, the number in superscript, refers to the chronological rank of the piece at hand among the other "number pieces" written for this number of players. Or are these in fact titles at all? It is tempting to believe this student of Zen Buddhism loved numbers for the properties that distinguish them from letters of the alphabet: namely, their simplicity and their self-sufficiency. The first thing to notice here is that Cage has made the composer's number -- the superscript -- subservient to the number signifying the performer(s).

Arved Ashy -- sentences
Basilica of St Adalbert (Grand Rapids, Michigan) space ONE- 6
Riwoche Tibetan Buddhist Temple, (Toronto, Ontario) space (ONE-10)'

I have quoted the above, which I presume to be written by Arved Ashby in (slightly more) conventional script. From what I can faintly distinguish upon this multi-coloured background, the spiral's words are printed with all their letters 'L' in upper case, whilst the remainder of the alphabet clings to the lower with obstinate persistence. I do however admit that a certain word blindness is descending upon me like a welcomed cloud of insecticide.

This is the exact state of mind in which I need Cage. His music -- for want of a better word to describe sound sculpture, is a magical balm to 'lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive ...', to dip into Thomas Cranmer's wonderfully poetic Biblical translations of 1559. Today we might say that we are burdened by 'an overabundance of omnipresent-pollution and purposely-destructive computer viruses for which we need to install and activate protective software programmes, terminally obliterating any remaining traces of the passage of negativity before downloading further data, virtual, or otherwise.' Cage does it all single-handedly for me every time! A magician, indeed.

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Copyright © 28 August 2002 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland


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