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BOOK REVIEWS

Cage Talk. Dialogues with and about John Cage.
Edited by Peter Dickinson.
University of Rochester Press. 265 pp. Hardback.
ISBN: 1580462375
First published: 2006
Price: 49.95 USD / 25.00 GBP
Ten b/w illustrations, no musical examples.

'I have nothing to say and I am saying it,' said Cage in his 'Lecture on Nothing', part of his 1961 Silence: Lectures and Writings. In fact, one comes to the opinion that what Cage had to say was often more interesting than what he composed.

Cage was certainly articulate. During the late 1980s, Peter Dickinson conducted a series of interviews for a BBC Radio Three documentary. These fascinating broadcasts now provide the main source of material for Cage Talk. To add to the value, friends and colleagues are interviewed, giving a warts-and-all view from Earle Brown, Merce Cunningham, Otto Luening, Virgil Thomson and a dozen more of Cage's contemporaries.

Cage's engaging manner radiates from these pages. Undoubtedly, his attractive personality helped his cause. Stockhausen's remark that Cage was a composer who drew attention to himself more by his actions than his productions, or Boulez's view that Cage was a clown are just as faithful as Eric Mottram's description of Cage as a sort of Buster Keaton of indeterminacy! Whatever Stockhausen's later view, here David Tudor - who gave the first performance of 4' 33'' - recalls that Stockhausen was 'very struck by the sounds and then by the continuity' when Cage's music was first played to him by Tudor in 1954. Interestingly, Stockhausen doubted Cage's musicianship. 'He has no inner vision: he doesn't hear,' he said. '...a musician begins to be a musician when he hears something nobody else hears.'

Cage's contrariness resulted in the famous revolt by the members of the New York Philharmonic in 1964, performing Atlas Eclipticalis, which Earle Brown describes: 'The rehearsals started out with the musicians being very careful and concerned. Then, after a little while they discovered that their microphone might be on or off according to a chance procedure. So the player could be playing his five notes with diligent application, then to find his microphone was turned off...the players wondered why they were trying so hard if nobody could hear them... they really got angry.'

Donal Henehan concluded that Cage 'raised contrariness to the state of art'. Nevertheless, Cage Talk is excellent, leaving one with feelings of affection towards its subject.

John Robert Brown

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