Tuesday, July 15, 2008

John Cage engages

Earlier this month a thousand people gathered at the former church of St Burchard in Halberstadt to listen to the latest progression in John Cage’s ORGAN2/ASLSP – As slow as possible. All they heard was a change from a note that has been playing continuously, day and night, for several months to another note that will now play continuously until November. The ‘piece’ is due to finish in 2639 – I won’t go into the complicated permutations relating to why it should finish then.
The organ note (it’s an automatic organ, so it doesn’t need to have someone stand there holding it, though that might make it more interesting) is loud enough to sound like an air-raid siren, apparently. Great for the neighbours. I wonder how many of them have gone slightly bonkers having this monotony going on in the back of their heads for months at a time? How many have shifted out of the neighbourhood since 2001 when the first note began?
Note that I say the first note: the one that changed on July the 5th, was only the sixth note in a series.
Some call this a masterpiece. On what basis I can’t imagine. A masterpiece requires someone to be at the top of his game, working perfectly with the best of materials. Nothing that Cage ‘composed’ in his later years is a masterpiece. He’s not a composer (though once upon a time he did actually write music). He’s a purveyor of that old school of the Emperor’s-New-Clothes. And the thousand people who attended the change of note are testament to the fact that there are still plenty of fools around who will claim anything weird and peculiar is a masterwork merely in order to be in on the game.
And even better if the thing either needs enormous explanation – or no explanation. As one of the crowd said, ‘It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just there.’ Yup.
Cage was only a master at convincing a certain number of people to take him seriously.

To convince yourself that I'm wrong and Cage is right, you can read more about the Project here.

The photo is of John Cage laughing at all the people who take him seriously (!)
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