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Frances Dyson, And then it was now

9 Evenings

John Cage, Variations VII, 1966 (video)
John Cage, Variations VII, 1966 (video)
John Cage at the Armory

It has been said that, in the performance of Variations VII, John Cage gave up more control than he had ever done in any other composition.

The setting was perfect for Cage. Not only did the 69th Regiment Armory produce a six-second reverberation that ensured the entire space would have a cathedral-like ambience (a physical attribute that Tudor and Cage explored, using the building itself as an instrument) but sound was made present in ways that went far beyond performance or aesthetics. With Cage’s piece, the Armory was transformed into a pan-aural centre that took in sounds from all over and processed them. Billy Klüver stated that Cage “wanted sounds from all over the city — and, if possible, all over the world. We had 15 telephone lines to restaurants, an aviary, a dog hospital, a street, etc. He also made use of radio receivers covering all the wavelengths. [He] also wanted to pick up sounds from outer space [...] [and] suggested picking up and amplifying the multitude of sounds around us that we cannot normally hear.” (1)

The primary aim in collecting such a wide range and variety of sounds was not so much to present the sounds “in themselves” (in accordance with what had been Cage’s overriding philosophy of sound) but to use them as sources to be streamed through audio technology. Radio waves and telephone lines were used to feed the sounds into the system and to transform them before they even reached the Armory. Once “in” the Armory, they were then processed through the sound system, with added reverberation being produced by the building itself. There was, therefore, processing upon processing and any sense of the “original” sound would eventually be lost amid what was a mix of electronic systems.

Frances Dyson © 2006 FDL