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WWII Avant, Part 3/5: John Cage MP3 (1941, 1942, 1945)

Charles Amirkhanian’s Ode to Gravity radio program broadcast in December 1987 an evening of John Cage‘s music, in part recorded in 1983 at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Among the pieces featured were several that Cage composed during World War II, including “Double Music” (1941), a collaboration with Lou Harrison, heard here in a performance by the Manhattan Percussion Ensemble; “Credo in US” (1942), a collage of a work performed by Musica Negativa on the album Music before Revolution (EMI); and Experiences No. 2 (1945-1948), which takes its text from “Tulips and Chimneys” by e.e. cummings, performed by Robert Wyatt on the album Jan Steele/John Cage: Voices and Instruments (EG Obscure, the same label that released Brian Eno’s early solo work).

All were composed fully or in part during World War II, the run up to which led to the emigration of many composers and other artists from Europe to the U.S. And in an interview with Amirkhanian that’s part of the recording, Cage talks about the influence of one such émigré, Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, on his development (MP3). More info at archive.org.

Not heard in this program is perhaps Cage’s second most famous work, Imaginary Landscape #1 (second, that is, to his “silent” piece, 4’33”). Streaming audio of a performance of that work, along with a reproduction of the score, is available at medienkunstnetz.de.

Tomorrow: Part 4/5, Toying with Conlon Nancarrow.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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