In the evening on New Year's Day, the filmmaker and I, joined by one of his longtime friends, sauntered over to Cornelia Street Cafe in the West Village to attend a live performance of "Indeterminacy," by the epitome of modern Renaissance man and genius, John Cage. An intersection of performance art, music, and literature, I entered the low, narrow basement of the classically styled New York cafe excited for the show, unaware of what exactly to expect: ninety short stories, prose poems, depending upon literary credence and taxonomy, penned by Cage, which were each read aloud within a sixty second time frame, no matter their length. A delightful surprise, renowned John Cage interpreter and scholar Margaret Leng Tan accompanied the four oral performers, playing snippets on the piano and with various percussive instruments throughout the readings. I was riveted for the entirety of the show.
By constructing a very specific, defined, uniformed space in which these pieces all must be read, set at sixty seconds, Cage has created a three-dimensional realm, a performance where the sounds, the connotive and denotive qualities of the text, and the temporal topography of pacing are all present and interacting with one another. The very voices, and tempo choices, of the individual performers is unique to each presentation of "Indeterminacy"; I would imagine seeing it performed yet again, if I am ever so priveleged, would be as fascinating and new as the first round.
Having only an admittedly cursory familiarity with Cage's work as composer, and being a constant student of literature, a writer myself, I was intrigued to hear his written works. While I am now much interested in reading more of his prose poems, I am thankful my introduction to them was through an oral presentation; hearing the words fill the not quite empty cavern basement, mingling with the chewing mandibles of nearby audience members, slopping down their plates of pâté and slurping their red wines, with the low purring and strumming of a cash register, of the ghostly aftermath of silent microphones. It seemed quite apt. His words, like the event itself, were at once poignant, beautiful, and utterly mundane, occasionally hilarious, and often bitter sweeteningly sad, as much of my favorite writing, and particularly poetry, is. Later in the month, the filmmaker's dear friend, a trained opera singer, will be performing in a John Cage concert series at Julliard, a celebration of this year, his one-hundredth birthday anniversary; I cannot wait.
(image taken from Amoeba)