If you know me, you should know this story. I am constantly telling it. Anyway, I’ve been wondering what happens to creativity when it’s deprived of space (see Occlusion / Seclusion). What happens to music when there’s no space left for it to sound, reflect and resonate? Silence? So I planned and started preparing for recording the creative endeavours of our very best and most wise friend Batik, our rice bird.
Even though he had been in captivity all of his life, living in more or less fixed surroundings and depending solely on external care and stimuli to provide sustenance and change, he demonstrated an inspirational creativity and discipline in developing his ultimate routine. Inspired by music records, or simply fixating on a specific sound within his environment, Batik used any and all resources available to him, to create. And just before he past away in 2016, his performance became an intricate structure of song, dance, percussion and ritual. You should have seen it, it was really something.
Except for the occasional home video I never did manage to let Batik get used to the camera enough to capture his performances. He did inspire me to combine a couple of ideas into Bird / Cage. And as you might have guessed by now, Batik is the Bird in Bird / Cage.
And Cage? Well it’s John Cage. And I’ll let John explain the Cage within Bird / Cage:
“… anybody who knows me, knows this story. I am constantly telling it. Anyway, in that silent room I heard two sounds. One high and one low. Afterward I asked the engineer in charge why, if the room was so silent, I had heard two sounds? He said describe them. I did. He said the high one was your nervous system in operation. The low one was your blood in circulation.”
Cage then concluded what I understand to be the basis for most, if not all of his work. He stated he could either go in the direction of intention, as everyone else was going, or he could explore the avenue that no one else was exploring; the absence of intention. Since the two sounds he was making, he did not intend to make or control.
So the first parts of “Bird / Cage” are titled “Play / Silence” and “Coincidental / Unintentional”. They are a short film and a text inspired by Batik and Cage’s “Silence”, a collection of his lectures and writings.
I am slowly working my way up to “For the Birds”.
Play / Silence | Bird / Cage – 01
Coincidental / Unintentional | Bird / Cage – 02
The following text is made up of questions and quotations. Some are of the writings of others and some from my own writings. (This introduction as well as a number of the following questions were written by John Cage from his book “Silence, Lectures and Writings” Copyright © 1939, 1944, 1949, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1968 by John Cage. Republished by Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd, 24 Lacy Road, London SW15 1NL) The order and quantity of the quotations was not given by chance operations. No performance timing was composed.
Nevertheless, Cage always prescribes one before delivering this lecture, sometimes adding by chance operations of when, in the course of the performance, I am obliged to light a cigarette.
How do we cautiously proceed in dualistic terms?
Is there such a thing as silence?
How much sound do we have remove before we get silence?
Are these my questions or John’s?
Did we appreciate curiosity?
Have we found any answers?
If John asked the questions, should we find the answers?
Why do artists write about the works of others?
To quote Meister Eckhart,
“No need to cautiously proceed in dualistic terms of success and failure or the beautiful and the ugly or good and evil but rather to simply walk on not wondering am I right or doing something wrong.”
Do compliments reversely assign guilt, like questions impose the existence of answers?
Will you believe me if this is the only way I can explain?
Which question explains it best?
Did you remember the previous question while reading this one? Will you remember the next one? Or any of them?
Are you distracted?
Is this the distraction?
Is it good?
Contemporary music is not the music of the future
nor the music of the past but simply
music with us: this moment, now,
this now moment.
Somthing remarkable has happened: I was asking questions; now I’m quoting from a lecture John gave years ago. Of course I will ask some more questions later on, but not now: I have quoting to do.
That moment is always changing. (I was silent: now I am
speaking.) How can we possibly tell what contemporary
music is, since now we’re not listening to it, we’re reading
John’s lecture about it. And that isn’t it.
Have you noticed the change?
If we think like this, should we think on stage?
Do you hear my words as if they are your own? Do they mean the same?
Does music make you smile like questions do?
Are there any requirements for smiling?
How can we make people listen to music?
If music is played, is what I play music?
If I record it? When you hear it? Or if you listen?
Do I record to remember?
Is it important?
Should we avoid using “I” or “me” when asking questions?
Did the twenty eight question give an answer?
Is this the thirty fourth question?
How did it get here?
Is it clear to you?
Have I said anything that would lead you to think that I thought you were stupid?
If we share only joy and happiness, what have we got?
Have we got what we need? Did we get it?
Who do we think we are kidding?
Can we dispense with all the folderol?
Wouldn’t it be better to just drop music? Then what would we have? Jazz?
Go on, ask me as if I know anything.
We’re passing through time and space. Our ears are in excellent condition.
Is it high?
Is it low?
Is it in the middle?
Is it soft?
Is it loud?
Are there two?
Are there more than two?
Is it a piano?
Why isn’t it?
Was it an airplane?
Is it a noise?
Is it music?
Is it softer than before?
Is it supersonic?
When will it stop?
Is it time?
Is it very short?
Is sound enough?
What more do we need?
Don’t I get whether I need it or not?
Is it a sound?
Then, again, is it music?
Is the word “music” music?
Does it communicate anything?
If it’s high, does it?
If it’s low, does it?
If it’s in the middle, does it?
If it’s soft, does it?
If it’s loud, does it?
If it’s an interval, does it?
What is an interval?
Is an interval a chord?
Is a chord an aggregate?
Is an aggregate a constellation?
What is a constellation?
How many sounds are there together?
Do I have to ask ten more?
Why do I?
Did I decide to ask so many?
Wasn’t I taking a risk?
Why was I?
Will it ever stop?
Why won’t it?
There is no such thing as silence. Get thee to an anechoic chamber, and hear there thy nervous system in operation and hear there thy blood in circulation.I have nothing to say and I am saying it.
– for Batik, John, Jan and David.
Silence: Lectures and Writings, John Cage
Excerpt from Silence, John Cage (via ubu.com/sound/cage.html)
John Cage and Rahsaan Roland Kirk – Sound??
Four American Composers: John Cage