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The John Cage Trust at Bard College and the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts Present John Cage: On and Off the Air!

Unique Program Highlights Cage’s Work With Technology in Celebration of His Centennial Year With Performances by Artist John Kelly, Percussion Group NEXUS and Other Special Guests

Image Credit: Ben Guthrie
Eleanor Davis

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College presents John Cage: On & Off the Air! celebrating Cage’s centennial year under the auspices of the John Cage Trust at Bard College. The Saturday evening concert spotlights Cage’s ever-prescient work with technology, and features performances by the acclaimed artist John Kelly; NEXUS, “one of the great percussion groups in the world,” (American Record Guide); Amy Garapic, percussion; Frank Corliss, piano; and Veanne Cox, Foster Reed, Laura Kuhn, Larry Larson, and George Quasha. The program features Radio Music (1956), 27’10.554” for a Percussionist (1956), Water Walk (1959), 4’33” (1952), Credo in US (1942), and a revival of the radio play The City Wears a Slouch Hat (1942). John Cage: On & Off the Air! is presented on Saturday, November 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15, $25, $35, and $45. To purchase tickets call the Fisher Center box office at 845-758-7900, or go to

“Cage’s interest in radio as both a medium of transmission and a musical instrument was lifelong, beginning in childhood with original broadcasts created on behalf of his Boy Scouts of America troop and culminating, the year before his death, with his Europera 5 (1991), one of three mixed-media works created for the operatic stage,” says Laura Kuhn, John Cage Professor of Performance Art at Bard College. John Cage: On & Off the Air! celebrates Cage’s engagement with the medium of radio with an ever-changing program of works wrapped around a newly staged revival of Cage’s peripatetic The City Wears a Slouch Hat (CBS Radio, 1942), based on a play by Kenneth Patchen, featuring a newly commissioned film of light and shadows by the New York composer Mikel Rouse. The four elements comprising this revival—music, sound effects, actors, and film—merge both live and prerecorded aspects.

About the Program

Radio Music (1956) was composed using chance operations. It may be performed by 1 to 8 radio operators, the eight parts of the score calling for between 26 and 64 different frequencies between 55 and 156 kHz, notated in numbers. Performers include Leila Bordreuil, Conrad Brittenham, John Garlid, Sonya Palkina, Nathan Smallwood, Jake Sokolov-Gonzalez, Will Tesdell, and Rebecca Wagner.

27’10.554” for a Percussionist (1956) was the last work in Cage’s “10,000 Things” series, a virtuosic work for solo percussionist. The instruments are divided into four groups – metal (M), wood (W), skin (S), and all else (A), i.e. electronics, radios, whistles, etc. – with the choice of specific instruments to be used determined by the performer. Amy Garapic will perform as solo percussionist utilizing metal, wood, skin, and electronic instruments (radios). 

John Cage composed Water Walk (1959) for the Italian TV quiz show “Lascia O Raddoppia” (“Double or Nothing”), using his Fontana Mix as composing means. In it, he incuded 34 distinct materials or stage properties, as well as a single-track tape, 7 ½ IPS, 3 minutes in length. The materials required mostly relate in one way or another to water, and include a bath tub, toy fish, pressure cooker, ice cubes, blender, rubber duck, goose whistle, and, of course, 5 radios. The score consists of a list of properties, a floor plan showing their placement, three pages with a timeline (of one minute each) with descriptions and pictographic notations of events, and a list of notes “regarding some of the actions to be made in their order of occurrence.” Amy Garapic will perform as solo percussionist.

4’33” (1952) is John Cage’s most notorious composition, his famous “silent piece,” which isn’t silent at all. In this work, no intentional sounds are made, but rather the sounds of the environment take center stage. It was first performed by David Tudor on Aug. 29, 1952, Maverick Concert Hall, Woodstock Artists Association, Woodstock, N.Y. In this first version of the work, Cage divided the work into three chance-determined movements, lasting 33”, 2’40”, and 1’20”. Poet George Quasha will perform using one radio.

Credo in US (1942) is scored for one pianist, two percussionists, and one performer on radio, and lasts 12 minutes. It was composed in accord with the phraseology of the dance by Merce Cunningham and Jean Erdman, and is the first instance of Cage’s using radios or sound recordings as musical instruments. It is also Cage’s first incorporation of the music of other composers: if recordings are used, Cage suggests Dvořák, Beethoven, Sibelius, and/or Shostakovich. Cage himself describes the work as a suite with a “satirical” character. Erdman recalled that for the first performance, which took place on August 1, 1942, at Bennington College, Vermont, a “tack piano” was used, i.e., a piano with thumbtacks inserted into the felt of the hammers. The pianist mutes the strings at times, and sometimes also plays upon the body of the piano (as a percussionist). Performers include NEXUS and Amy Garapic, percussion, and Frank Corliss, piano.

The City Wears a Slouch Hat (1942) is John Cage’s first-ever radio play, subtitled “Incidental Music for a Radio Play by Kenneth Patchen,” which was composed on commission from CBS Radio. Cage initially responded by writing a score that consisted entirely of sound effects that would be created in the CBS Studios. Instruments called for in the percussion score include tin cans, muted gongs, woodblocks, alarm bells, cowbells, maracas, claves, ratchet, pod rattles, foghorn, thundersheet, and sound-effects recordings. The script sketches a surreal tale of a man (“The Voice”) who wanders about the big city, encountering various characters in sometimes extremely mystifying circumstances. It was first broadcast via WBBM (Columbia Broadcasting System, Chicago) as part of the Columbia Workshop series, on May 31, 1942. Performers for this production include NEXUS, percussion, with speakers Veanne Cox, John Kelly, Laura Kuhn, Larry Larson, Katie O’Donnell, and Foster Reed.

For tickets and information call the Fisher Center Box Office at 845-758-7900, or go to

About the Production:

John Cage (1912–92) was a singularly inventive and much beloved American composer, writer, philosopher, and visual artist. Beginning around 1950, he departed from the pragmatism of precise musical notation and circumscribed ways of performance. His principal contribution to the history of music is his systematic establishment of the principle of indeterminacy: by adapting Zen Buddhist practices to composition and performance, Cage succeeded in bringing both authentic spiritual ideas and a liberating attitude of place to the enterprise of Western art. His aesthetic of chance produced a unique body of what he called “once-only” works, any two performances of which can never be quite the same. In an effort to reduce the subjective element in composition, he developed methods of selecting the components of his pieces by chance—early on through the tossing of coins or dice, and later through the use of random number generators on the computer, and especially IC (1984), designed and written in the C language by Cage’s programmer-assistant, Andrew Culver, to simulate the coin oracle of the I– Ching.

Cage’s use of the computer resulted in a system of what can easily be seen as total serialism, in which all elements pertaining to pitch, noise, duration, amplitude, tempi, harmony, etc., could be determined by referring to previously drawn correlated charts. Thus, Cage’s mature works did not originate in psychology, motive, drama, or literature, but, rather, were just sounds, free of judgments about whether they are musical or not, free of fixed relations, and free of memory and taste.

His most enduring, indeed notorious, composition, influenced by Robert Rauschenberg’s all-black and all-white paintings, is the radically tacet 4’33” (1952). Encouraging the ultimate freedom in musical expression, the three movements of 4’33” are indicated by the pianist’s closing and reopening of the piano key cover, during which no sounds are intentionally produced.

The John Cage Trust at Bard College was established in 1993 as a not-for-profit institution whose mission is to gather together, organize, preserve, disseminate, and generally further the work of the late American composer John Cage. Its founding trustees were Merce Cunningham, artistic director of the Cunningham Dance Company; Anne d’Harnoncourt, director of the Philadelphia Museum; and David Vaughan, archivist of the Cunningham Dance Foundation, all long time Cage friends and associates. Laura Kuhn, who from 1986 to 1992 worked directly with John Cage, serves as both a founding trustee and ongoing executive director.

To download color photographs of John Cage: On & Off the Air!, visit 

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October 26, 2012


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This event was last updated on 10-26-2012