An Impressive Audio Archive of John Cage Lectures & Interviews: Hear Recordings from 1963–1991

His­to­ry has remem­bered John Cage as a com­pos­er, but to do jus­tice to his lega­cy one has to allow that title the widest pos­si­ble inter­pre­ta­tion. He did, of course, com­pose music: music that strikes the ears of many lis­ten­ers as quite uncon­ven­tion­al even today, more than a quar­ter-cen­tu­ry after his death, but rec­og­niz­able as music nonethe­less. He also com­posed with silence, an artis­tic choice that still intrigues peo­ple enough to get them tak­ing the plunge into his wider body of work, which also includes com­po­si­tions of words, many thou­sands of them writ­ten and many hours of them record­ed.

Ubuweb offers an impres­sive audio archive of Cage’s spo­ken word, begin­ning with mate­r­i­al from the 1960s and end­ing with a talk (embed­ded at the top of the post) he gave at the San Fran­cis­co Art Insti­tute in the penul­ti­mate year of his life. There he read a 30-minute piece called “One 7” con­sist­ing of “brief vocal­iza­tions inter­spersed with long peri­ods of silence” before tak­ing audi­ence ques­tions which “range from inquiries about the process by which Cage com­pos­es, his lack of inter­est in pleas­ing an audi­ence, his love of mush­rooms, Bud­dhism, chance oper­a­tions, and whether Cage can stand on his head.”

Turn the Cage clock back 28 years from there and we can hear a spir­it­ed 1963 con­ver­sa­tion between him and Jonathan Cott, the young music jour­nal­ist lat­er known for con­duct­ing John Lennon’s last inter­view. “At every turn Cott antag­o­nizes Cage with chal­leng­ing ques­tions,” says Ubuweb, adding that he mar­shals “quotes from numer­ous sources (includ­ing Nor­man Mail­er, Michael Stein­berg, Igor Stravin­sky and oth­ers) crit­i­ciz­ing Cage and his music.”

Cage, in char­ac­ter­is­tic response, “par­ries Cot­t’s thrusts with a ver­i­ta­ble tai chi prac­tice of music the­o­ry.” This con­trasts with the mood of Cage’s 1972 inter­view along­side pianist David Tudor embed­ded just above, pre­sent­ed in both Eng­lish and French and fea­tur­ing ref­er­ences to the work of Hen­ry David Thore­au and Mar­cel Duchamp.

Cage has more to say about Duchamp, and oth­er artists like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschen­berg, in the undat­ed lec­ture clip from the archives of Paci­fi­ca Radio just above. Have a lis­ten through the rest of Ubuwe­b’s col­lec­tion and you’ll hear the mas­ter of silence speak volu­mi­nous­ly, if some­times cryp­ti­cal­ly, on such sub­jects as Zen Bud­dhism, anar­chism, utopia, the work of Buck­min­ster Fuller, and “the role of art and tech­nol­o­gy in mod­ern soci­ety.” The con­texts vary, both in the sense of time and place as well as in the sense of the per­for­ma­tive expec­ta­tions placed on Cage him­self. But even a sam­pling of the record­ings here sug­gests that being John Cage, in what­ev­er set­ting, con­sti­tut­ed a pro­duc­tive artis­tic project all its own.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Curi­ous Score for John Cage’s “Silent” Zen Com­po­si­tion 4’33”

How to Get Start­ed: John Cage’s Approach to Start­ing the Dif­fi­cult Cre­ative Process

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

Avant-Garde Com­pos­er John Cage’s Sur­pris­ing Mush­room Obses­sion (Which Began with His Pover­ty in the Depres­sion)

Nota­tions: John Cage Pub­lish­es a Book of Graph­ic Musi­cal Scores, Fea­tur­ing Visu­al­iza­tions of Works by Leonard Bern­stein, Igor Stravin­sky, The Bea­t­les & More (1969)

Dis­cov­er the 1126 Books in John Cage’s Per­son­al Library: Fou­cault, Joyce, Wittgen­stein, Vir­ginia Woolf, Buck­min­ster Fuller & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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