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John Cage

Variations VII (performance)

John Cage, Variations VII (video)
John Cage, Variations VII (video)
John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII
Performance (a) presented as part of 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, The 69th Regiment Armory, New York, N.Y., United States, October 15-16, 1966.

Technological design: Cecil Coker.

Performers:
David Tudor; David Behrman; Antony Gnasso; Lowell Cross; John Cage

Lighting design: Jennifer Tipton, Beverly Emmons (assistant)

In Variations VII, John Cage applied the principle of randomness to select the materials for his performance, but did not use any recorded audio tracks. He tried, rather, to make audible, at one and the same place, sounds issuing simultaneously from a variety of sources. With this in mind, he made use of communications media like radio and telephone to amplify phenomena already present in the environment of the Armory. Cage also picked up the brain waves of his collaborators on the stage, in order to modulate the amplitude of sine waves. By neglecting to eliminate the sounds’ interference with one another, he bestowed on them an importance comparable to that of other sources of information that were filtered during the performance. Like the technological components, the composer and the other performers functioned more like participants immersed in this form of mediation than they did as people in charge of it. (1)

Two parallel platforms were set up in the centre of the Armory. On them were placed the technological components, along with several sound generators (b). At ankle level beneath the platforms, 30 stage lights placed next to 30 photoelectric cells provided lighting for the performance area and triggered sounds as the performers walked by the photocells (c), (d), (e). The shadows produced by these lights were cast onto two large canvases (located to the right of the central control), amplifying the actions of Cage and his collaborators (f), (g), (h).

The sculptures that David Tudor designed for his performance Bandoneon! (a combine) served as elements of the set (i). The main acoustic material originated in places outside the Armory. Twenty transistor radios randomly intercepted the content of the shows and the interference between the stations (j), (k), (l). In addition, Cage used 10 telephone lines (m) to pick up ambient noises from various locations in New York, and broadcast them for the duration of the performance. The documents consulted when writing this description indicate that these places included Luchow's Restaurant, the Bronx Zoo aviary, the 14th Street Con Edison electric power station, the ASPCA lost dog kennel, the New York Times press room and Merce Cunningham’s studio (certain other sources like the New York subway and city streets appear in Cage’s notes, but there is no confirmation that they were actually used on the set). During one performance, one of the engineers inadvertently hung up the phones. Cage was subsequently unable to re-establish contact because, following his instructions, his collaborators at certain designated locations had also left their phone lines open. (2). Along with these outside sources, there were also two Geiger counters; originally designed to measure ionizing radiation, they were used here rather to give off signals that got converted into sounds. Moreover, six contact microphones placed across the whole range of work platforms amplified noises generated by the performers as they played with a host of mechanical objects, like juicers, mixers and so forth (n), (o), (p). Finally, David Behrman wore electrodes on his forehead. (q). The biological data gathered were then converted into sine waves whose amplitudes varied accordingly. The sounds picked up were sent through 17 audio outputs and played over the 12 Armory speakers. Since all of the sound sources were live feeds, they did not follow any pre-established order—apart, that is, from the sound of a siren programmed to announce the start of each performance (3). Their simultaneous broadcast often generated white noise on the sound recordings of both performances. On the other hand, the 10 sine waves (emitted by oscilloscopes) seemed to predominate (4).

During the performance given on October 16, some of Cage’s friends approached the two tables and encouraged the audience to do likewise. A few dozen viewers ended up gathering around the space occupied by Cage and his collaborators (r), (s), (t), (u), (v), (w), (x), (y), (z). The October 15 performance lasted about 40 minutes, while that of October 16 went on for approximately 85 minutes (5). In a departure from his usual practice in the Variations cycle, Cage did not publish a score for Variations VII. On the other hand, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (New York, N.Y., United States) has in its collection some notes (3 sheets) that the composer wrote later, in 1972 (6).

[Documentary sources...]

John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII 17 Transistor  [sample] (Stamford: General Electric, ca 196?, 1 item: metal, plastic; 21 X 31 X 12 John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII John Cage, Variations VII


Vincent Bonin © 2006 FDL

(1) Paragraph based on John Cage’s statement of purpose in the program. See: 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, edited by Pontus Hultén and Frank Königsberg ([New York]: Experiments in Art and Technology: The Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, [1966]). p.[2].

(2) John Cage, in an interview with William Fetterman. See his John Cage's theatre pieces : notations and performances (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1996), p.137.

(3) Account by Lowell Cross, sent by email to Clarisse Bardiot, August 2005.

(4) Schilling made several recordings of the October 16 performance by placing one cassette recorder on the Armory stage and another on the balcony. [Variations VII by John Cage: Presentation of October 16, 1966 / produced by Billy Klüver], [Recorded on October 16, 1966], 1 audio tape (85 min, 59 s): instantaneous, acoustic.

(5) Lengths extrapolated from the recordings of each evening (see the list of documents consulted).

(6) John Cage, Variations VII: 7 Statements Re A Performance Six Years Before (New York: Henmar Press, 1972) [3] p. JPB 94-24, folder 295, 296. Astor-Lenox and Tilden Foundation. Music Division, New York Public Library of Performing Arts.