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Quotes of the Week: John Cage, Tom Phillips

The BBC has published online a brief feature, with audioclips, about music experimentation, titled “Sex Drugs and Four Minutes of Silence.” To borrow a now infamous bit of BBC phraseology, the title unnecessarily sexes up a story that stands on its on merits. It’s an interesting collection of brief interviews, including the late John Cage recounting the epiphany he had as a result of entering an anechoic chamber, an entirely soundproof room. It’s an oft-cited anecdote, but rarely does one get to hear it in Cage’s voice, with that mix of whimsy and wisdom he shared with fellow period stand-up philosophers Andy Warhol and Marshall McCluhan:

Going into the anechoic chamber at Harvard University, I expected to hear no sound at all, because it was a room made as silent as possible. But in that room I heard two sounds. And I was so surprised that I went to the engineer in charge … and said, There’s something wrong, there’re two sounds in that room, and he said describe them, and I did, one was high and one was low, and he said, the high one was my nervous system … and the low one was my blood circulating. So I realized that … I was making music unintentionally continuously.”
(Click here to hear the full Cage tape.)

There are also recordings of John Cale and of Tom Phillips, a fine conceptual artist and painter who was Brian Eno‘s art teacher. Says Phillips,

The whole idea of art schools is that they were a sort of a very nice dustbin for anarchic elements of the population, where people without proper qualifications could go and study something and keep off the streets.
Prog-rock fans will know Phillips’ work from his covers to albums by Eno (Another Green World) and King Crimson (Starless and Bible Black); he also did one of the images on the poster that came with the Who‘s Face Dances (also involved in that Who project were David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj). (For the full Phillips anecdote, click here, and for the full BBC article, click here; the program aired on BBC Radio 4 on April 26.)

By Marc Weidenbaum

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