Are you familiar with what might very well be the most important composition of the 20th Century?
Scouting online a few weeks ago before my first visit proper to San Francisco, I had a sense that there might be some kind of John Cage connection, and sure enough, I immediately stumbled upon a radio interview from decades ago with the composer discussing some of his ‘chance etchings’ he had done for an exhibition at Berkeley.
While in california, I never actually caught the BART to Berkeley campus. But on my penultimate day in California, at 4.33 a.m. (hey, still on EST!), I had the wonderous revelation that I should simply record Cage’s landmark piece…on flute…anywhere.
This pending performance gave me a newfound and welcome sense of bearing and purpose. And perhaps most importantly, it freed me from that terrible plight of the tourist: to tick off every landmark on the trip itinerary…I would not have to actually get to Berkeley to pay tribute to Cage!!
4’33” is a most versatile piece that will survive long after man has left his footprint on earth. Actually, does this piece require a performer? Let alone an audienc? Yes to both, I guess, or at least this recording props me up and makes me feel important, even accomplished…and imagine, this is only the first two movements!
Yes, this piece of ‘silence’ was actually composed – I love this – in three movements, cobbled together from out-takes of silence from various of Cage’s previous compositions. It is a wondrously multi-layered piece. In part, the lack of music acts as a reflective surface for ambient, found sound…even the sound of an audience member’s breathing and heartbeat – or candy-unwrapping – are integral to the listening experience! So, wherever you might find yourself listening to this piece here, you – and what you happen to be hearing – are part of the piece.
Like the Rite of Spring before it, this composition still marks a watershed for philisophical fisticuffs!
I guess it was from one Hitchcock film or another, I had pictured the area under the Golden Gate Bridge to be some secluded, grassy park.
But actually I’m getting ahead of myself: it seemed cliched to even consider heading anywhere near the famed bridge – yeah, and I had a burning desire to catch a trolley on one of those really, really steep hills…not!!
So it came as a real revelation to discover that, lo and behold, under the Golden Gate bridge there is this incredible historic armory, replete with cannons, circa, like, whenever!
As silly as it might sound, I was actually a little nervous before recording. Four and a half minutes – and change – never felt so long, especially as I found myself keeping an eye on my Edirol’s dying battery levels!
It was an incredibly windblown afternoon. Up on the Macbethian parapets, alongside the turrets by this off-limits lighthouse, I was almost swept off my feet. It was tucked in the shelter of this stairwell with its graffitied, grimy windows that I set up to ‘perform’. I’m not even sure where the wind came from, out of such a blue San Francisco sky. In the days while I visited, there was nary a trace of the picturesque and fabled fog rolling in off the bay (maybe next time: one can only hope).
The most magical moments of this particular performance? Aside from this mind-blowing setting in the shadow of the Golden Gate bridge, it is the footfall heard in this ancient, wooden, circular staircase, as well as the chance sound of a child talking towards the end of the second movement, at least in my humble opinion.
Unscripted, and, yes, rest assured, the 3rd movement is forthcoming…I bet you can hardly wait!