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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