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Water Walk With Me

Via WFMU, wonderful video clip of a youngish and very dapper looking John Cage, appearing on a TV game show to perform his piece “Water Walk” on a motley collection of household objects. By 1960, when this piece aired, Cage was already controversial for his seemingly innocuous idea that “music is a production of sound” and because of his hallmark piece “4:33” (a.k.a. “Silence”), composed a few years earlier. The list of instruments for the game show performance included a rubber duck, ice cubes, a blender and five radios.

The host seems incredulous that Cage could actually consider this music, but generously quotes respected reviewers who feel otherwise (while simultaneously pointing out that the same reviewers still had their doubts). When warned that the audience might laugh out loud at the piece, Cage welcomes the possibility.

There’s an almost surreal coda to the performance: A dispute between two unions apparently prevented the radios from being plugged in before cameras rolled – most likely electricians squabbling with stage hands over whose contract mandates handling of power cords. On the other hand, it could have been the musicians union taking offense to the aesthetics of the piece.

Cage takes it in stride and adjusts the score accordingly. Instead of twiddling knobs, he slaps the radios, and later knocks them to the floor. Would love to have heard a version with the radios plugged in – could have taken the piece in an entirely different direction.

Watching the Cage clip took me back to a long-ago Fred Frith show, in which he played “table-top” guitars with screwdrivers, hammers and handkerchiefs, and kicked the tables for percussion. That concert broadened my perception of music to see things from Cage’s point of view – that any performance of sound is music.

From → Cut-Out Bin

One Comment
  1. shacker permalink

    I had a similar experience watching Eugene Chadbourne playing guitars with pretty much anything he could find in the garage — including wads of tangled up guitar strings.

    Our old friend Matthew Sperry, to whom this site is dedicated, was an amazing avant garde bassist who sometimes played with chunks of styrofoam, scrap wood, and other goodies.

    I love taking Miles to Adventure Playground, where they have several old pianos that have become part of the environment. Kids have painted every inch of them (including the strings), and sometimes stuff the strings with anything they can find. Takes the idea of “prepared piano” to a whole ‘nuther level.

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