john cage cover

The wisdom of hand and heart comes pouring from the presence of John Cage, caught on video by the eye of Chris Felver. Cage is at Crown Point Press in San Francisco preparing an exhibition of his etchings based on smoke and rock formations. Remembering Black Mountain College, an intentional community, where, as he puts it, the best things happened when students and teachers sat around the dinner table talking up the universe of things. He cites the people who made it exciting, Robert Rauschenberg, Charles Olson, Josef Albers, and Buckminster Fuller. Detailing the first “happening,” Cage underscores that his music is more a reflection of what is outside of himself, not within him. He reminisces about his initial encounter with the I Ching, a text that taught him the importance of chance operations, the grounding of his music, writing and visual art.
– Neeli Cherkovski


The sound of one hand clapping plus coughs, sighs, and the rustling jackets of fidgeting audience members were al significant components of John Cage’s new musical composition One Seven, performed last Wednesday at the San Francisco Art Institute. Between the moments of quiet, Cage politely emitted into his microphone a series of sounds ranging from a shocking, thunderous “Ka!” to a phlegm-in-the-throat gurgle to a ripping sinusitis snore.

Wednesday’s performance was reminiscent of Cage’s 1952 masterpiece “4'33"”, which treated the audience to slightly over four and a half long minutes of silence. To Cage, a philosopher as well as an artist and composer, the sounds of the environment are as valuable as those composed of music. According to him, “The music I prefer, even to my own or anybody else’s, is what we are hearing if we are just quiet.”

Hundreds of people showed up on Wednesday, cramming their way into the Art Institute’s auditorium while others filed into the cafe to hear and watch music guru Cage perform on closed-circuit TV. Cage charmed the capacity crowd during the question-and-answer period following the performance. A firm believer in the role chance plays in art and life, Cage explained how he tossed thee I Ching to figure out how far apart the space/silence brackets between the complicated melange of gurgles and chokes should be placed. One confused audience member asked, “Does it bother you if people don’t get what you’re doing?” Cage, whose work embodies the Zen quality of purposeless art, politely replied, “That really is not my concern.”



Dancing within the center of himself, John Cage performs the silences and sounds that have been his calling card since he first stepped forward. The radical basis of his art is reflected here in a mesmerizing thirty-minute performance suggestive of archaic chants, traditional incantation, and the outlines of more decorative, filled-in works of art. Spare and lean, his performance sings with the same authority one finds in his music, his writing, and his visual expressions.