John Cage Performs Water Walk on US Game Show I’ve Got a Secret (1960)

Back in 2011, we fea­tured John Cage’s 1960 tele­vi­sion per­for­mance of his piece Water WalkIts video qual­i­ty may have left some­thing to be desired, but now, thanks to the YouTube chan­nel of Bard Col­lege’s Richard B. Fish­er Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts, you can watch the entire ten-minute seg­ment in much crisper qual­i­ty than most sur­viv­ing pro­grams from that era. This unlike­ly hap­pen­ing occurred on I’ve Got a Secret, the long-run­ning occu­pa­tion-guess­ing game show whose guest ros­ter also includ­ed chess prodi­gy Bob­by Fis­ch­er, “fifth Bea­t­le” Pete Best, and fried-chick­en icon Colonel Har­land Sanders. For this par­tic­u­lar episode, we wrote in our ear­li­er post, “the TV show offered Cage some­thing of a teach­able moment, a chance to intro­duce the broad­er pub­lic to his brand of avant-garde music.”

For Water Walk, Cage round­ed up a vari­ety of “instru­ments” all to do with that liq­uid — a bath­tub, a pitch­er, ice cubes in a mix­er — and the uncon­ven­tion­al sym­pho­ny they pro­duce cul­mi­nates in the Rube Gold­ber­gian mix­ing of a drink, the sip­ping of which the com­po­si­tion dic­tates about two and a half min­utes in. Nat­u­ral­ly, Cage being Cage, the piece incor­po­rates audi­ence reac­tion nois­es; when host Gary Moore warns him that cer­tain mem­bers of the stu­dio audi­ence will laugh, Cage responds, “I con­sid­er laugh­ter bet­ter than tears.”

You can learn more about this inter­sec­tion of far for­ward-think­ing artistry and the mid­cen­tu­ry tele­vi­su­al main­stream in Lau­ra Paolin­i’s piece “John Cage’s Secret,” avail­able at “At that moment in 1960, a rup­ture was being deep­ened,” Paoli­ni writes. “High art and low were becom­ing more and more com­fort­able with one anoth­er over the air­waves. At this moment, as the screens glow their blue auras into the homes of North Amer­i­ca, every­one sees some­thing they haven’t seen before. And every­one has an opin­ion about it.” And those opin­ions, I like to think Cage would have said, only extend the art fur­ther.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

10 Rules for Stu­dents and Teach­ers Pop­u­lar­ized by John Cage

Lis­ten to John Cage’s 5 Hour Art Piece: Diary: How To Improve The World (You Will Only Make Mat­ters Worse)

Hear Joey Ramone Sing a Piece by John Cage Adapt­ed from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake

Watch a Sur­pris­ing­ly Mov­ing Per­for­mance of John Cage’s 1948 “Suite for Toy Piano”

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.