- The question is not really so much with the historical Cage but with the inheritance of Cage, and along with him, the particular mostly white, mostly male avant-garde/conceptual project he helped to create. For me these are questions of both freedom and a certain understanding of politics (as action, as spaces, as stories), as well as questions of art (as aesthetics, as ideas). For the most part, too, they are not anything but interesting, perhaps, leaving more of a trace of feeling and resonance (or not) than any kind of real line of argument. But it seems easy for the avant-garde to take up argument as its mode – here not there, this not that, and here’s why.
3. John Cage and David Wojnarowicz
Wojnarowicz: “no one can really explain in a rational way what makes a good or a bad photograph other than the artist’s intent…you can always get something on film and if it is blurry and out of focus ‘badly’ lit you only have to claim intent and the art world will consider it.’ Which is an interesting reversal of Cage’s rejection of the author/composer’s desires. Here, for Wojnarowicz, the ambiguity lies in the medium of photography itself, comes along with the technology. From his perspective, it would seem then that Cage’s ‘discovery’ of an un-focus, the attention going here or there, the unfixed terrain of meaning, narrative, and attention, the blurring of art and life, these are qualities of the world, bound in social forces that complicate things, and helplessly so. In Cage and friends we get the impression these things are the product of an aesthetic intervention, a novel and at least somewhat proprietary intervention.
2. Hannah Arendt: The author’s intention/expression is not what the art is. This lack of union, this unfocused relationship, is just the case. We don’t have to war, with it or against it, as though there were an ideological commitment to affirm or deny it (though in some cases I suppose it might be, but you might as well have an ideological commitment about the water cycle or the moon phases). The wild multiplicity of art’s appearances and experiences is a fact that is attached to it as a “worldly object,” not the product (and only in some cases) of a particular aesthetic credo that adheres to randomness or chance. Some other distinction might be necessary, though. Where shitty art like The Da Vinci Code and most movies fails is rather through a means-ends equation they embrace from the outset. It sets up and then satisfies predetermined thoughts and feelings, over and over again. Or pop music – love/lust feelings, commodity/shopping feelings. But it’s not the artist’s intents and desires toward the material that get in the way and make this manipulation so gross, sad, nauseating. It’s the presence of an ‘artist’s intention’ and desire to set up an efficient and manipulative transfer of affects and desires (called a song) toward a particular end, much like a commercial, that makes it that way. Any number of styles or genres or any approach to the material could be set up according to this efficient model. Put another way, the particular stylistic content is irrelevant. It’s how it enters the world (never in a vacuum, never on its own) that matters.
OR, Monique Wittig/Linda Zerilli: Instead, storytelling undoes history; history in its capacity to create a bond, a containment. Storytelling can break the sequence of containment through a wild relation to others that is new (not a cliché repetition of suspense/horror/lust). Which makes me wonder where we might find music that had a similarly wild-relating-to-others quality, music as a social practice of storytelling that undoes history’s bondage mode. Sun Ra is the only person that comes to mind. And especially because there is no war there as there is so often in the avant garde, there is no offing of the previous generation to make space for the new – a killing carried out by some spokesMan for the new mode, which, however new the new aesthetic credo, the actions in time and space are boringly old: kill the old king, be the new king. Sun Ra, is he even a musician? He talks more about stories than sounds/notes, talks about forgetting how to play, and his is a band, and he is in the bar, and he dances, and he is known by many names …
Maybe It Isn’t Even Music Anyway is a series of short essays on being a musician and what to do with the past and the future of whatever it is.
- Monique Wittig: Freedom is not a structure but is an action, a practice. There is no structural and/or historical solution to this or that situation. No improved and better form or system could sufficiently guarantee or safeguard the space and conditions necessary for the practice of freedom. Systems are, and always will be, things that must be mitigated, questioned, reshaped and resisted, while the main work is the very unsystematic, wild, and unstable work of building that good space for action/freedom/practice, and doing it in any/whatever system you find yourself in.
Open Music takes its first trip to Bellefonte, and plays three new graphic scores by local artists Harriet Rosenberg, Nicole Gargiulo, and Paul Barsom.
April 29, 7:30 pm, Bellefonte Art Museum
Open Music began as a way of performing an under-performed, playful, and provocative kind of music, and getting a disparate band of people together to do so. Culture, art, performance, music, entertainment, just like every other part of our lives, has become more targeted and specialized, more centered in distinguished institutions (universities, performing arts centers) and blandly-branded corporations (Clear Channel, Apple). Open Music tells a different story: sound and performance as a sometimes awkward and uncomfortable (but always intimate) force of interruption in our increasingly-curated lives. On the one hand, the story is told with the help of artists from this more playful and experimental lineage, from John Cage and Pauline Oliveros, to Fluxus and Cornelius Cardew; on the other, the band itself gathers, makes its own decisions, takes the risk of presenting something of its own creation. And because there is no prerequisite for joining the band, that something could end up as anything.
Music, sound and performance like this are seldom heard or experienced. Algorithmically-funneled culture combined with the pressure to reap some kind of revenue make for a hard lean towards entertainment, towards satisfaction. But Open Music presents a more forgotten pleasure, the pleasure of being provoked and unnerved, the chaotic pleasure of not knowing what to make of something. And then to hold that sense, together with the performers, with everybody.