John Cage (1912-1992)

John Cage main page on UbuWeb Sound

Columbus College, Georgia (Spring 1975)

  1. Introduction to "Empty Words"
  2. Empty Words (incomplete)
  3. Introduction to "Music for Marcel Duchamp"
  4. Music for Marcel Duchamp
  5. Questions and Answers

Auditorium, Columbus College (now "Columbus State University")
Columbus, GA
Spring, 1975

Lineage: (1975) Panasonic cassette recorder and E/V 660 microphone -> Tandberg 3000X -> BASF reel @ 3-3/4 ips (2007): AKAI GX-220D reel-to-reel deck -> Xitel Inport -> Sound Forge -> FLAC

In the spring of 1975, Ken, a friend from our mutual home-town of Columbus, Georgia, came by my dorm room at the University of Georgia and to say that John Cage was doing an artist-in-residence program at Columbus College, and was giving a performance on the coming Friday night.

THE John Cage? In sleepy little Columbus?

Being the guy from Columbus with a car, Ken and two of his buddies piled into my '66 VW Beetle, and we headed south for Columbus that Friday afternoon.

That night, from my squeaky auditorium seat, I taped most of Mr. Cage's performance, as well as part of the "meet and greet" on the stage afterward. Ken and one of his friends asked Mr. Cage a couple of good questions, and his answers tell us a lot about the work he presented that night.

(I am looking for more information about this performance, and have contacted Columbus State University to see what they have in their archives. I know that an art instructor at the school was filming with a 16mm camera while I was on the stage with Mr. Cage and Ken and his friends, but I do not know how much more was filmed or whether that film still exists. Any additional information would be welcomed.)

"""Empty Words" is a four-part "non-syntactical" work based on the journal of Henry David Thoreau. For the reading, Mr. Cage sat at a desk with a lamp and a watch, the text on a book stand, and read part of the third part of the work, which has only syllables and letters. Mr. Cage gives an extended explanation of the work in his introduction, which is track one of this CD. The reading, track two, lasted longer than the 30 minutes I captured. The tape ran out, and I did not flip the cassette and record the rest of this part of the program. (Anyone with a time machine, please contact me to rectify this situation.)

Track four, "Music for Marcel Duchamp" (1947), is performed by Mr. Cage on a prepared piano, which I believe was an upright piano rather than a concert grand. As he explains in his introduction, track three, the work was written for Duchamp's segment of the film "Dreams That Money Can Buy" by Hans Richter.

Track five is a recording on the stage of the auditorium, during the post-program question and answer period described earlier. Mr. Cage gives more insight into his work and this evening's performance. From what he reveals in answer to Ken's question about the watch, I gather that each performance of "Empty Words" is unique, based on chance operations which involve his watch. Also, we learn that there were slides projected during the "Empty Words" performance, but Mr. Cage indicates that these were not coordinated with his reading.

My recorder and microphone were in my knapsack throughout the program, and I took the knapsack onstage for the questions and answers. I held the sack, dangling from a strap, at approximately knee-level, the mic protruding from the opening and the recorder's buttons and red record light plainly visible to Mr. Cage when he looked down at it after answering Ken's questions. He looked at me suspiciously. I smiled, tried to be charming, and asked if he would give me a "sound autograph." He replied, "No."

For this edition of the recording, noise reduction was used only on track one, the introduction to "Empty Words," to improve the clarity of Mr. Cage's introduction to the piece. A parametric equalizer and spectrum analysis graph were employed to isolate and filter out hums from the auditorium air conditioning system. Volume was boosted on tracks one and three, both introductions spoken off-mic by Mr. Cage. The audio level of "Empty Words" is unaltered from the original recording, as the loud and quiet passages are essential elements of the work.

June, 2007