John Cage Plays Amplified Cacti and Plant Materials with a Feather (1984)

On Jan­u­ary 1, 1984, 25 mil­lion view­ers tuned in to watch Good Morn­ing, Mr. Orwell!, a live satel­lite pro­gram cre­at­ed by the Kore­an-born video artist, Nam June Paik. Accord­ing to reports in The New York Times, Paik cre­at­ed the pro­gram with the hope of prov­ing that tele­vi­sion could be “an instru­ment for inter­na­tion­al under­stand­ing rather than an omi­nous means of thought con­trol,” as George Orwell warned in 1984. And Paik made his pitch with the help of names you’ll rec­og­nize from the 1980s cul­tur­al scene (assum­ing your mem­o­ry goes back that far) — Peter GabrielLau­rie Ander­son, George Plimp­ton, Oin­go Boin­go, Philip Glass, the Thomp­son Twins, Mer­ce Cun­ning­ham and Allen Gins­berg.

Above, we’re fea­tur­ing one mem­o­rable per­for­mance from Good Morn­ing, Mr. Orwell!, which aired on PBS sta­tions across the US: the avant-garde com­pos­er John Cage play­ing ampli­fied cac­ti and plant mate­ri­als with noth­ing but a feath­er. Joined on stage by fel­low com­pos­er Take­hisa Kosu­gi, Cage per­forms an impro­vi­sa­tion that could have accom­pa­nied a Mer­ce Cun­ning­ham dance. Mean­while, George Plimp­ton, a founder of The Paris Review and the host of Good Morn­ing, Mr. Orwell!, pro­vides some nar­ra­tion.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Cage Unbound: A New Dig­i­tal Archive Pre­sent­ed by The New York Pub­lic Library

John Cage Per­forms Water Walk on “I’ve Got a Secret” (1960)

The Con­tro­ver­sial Sounds of Silence: John Cage’s 4’33″ Per­formed by the BBC Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.