In the digital age one must consider the value of reprinting a collection of articles that are easily available through services such as JSTOR. This small volume on the twentieth-century composer John Cage is such a collection of articles that were either originally printed (or, in two cases, printed in translation) in the journal October or are generally available elsewhere. The eight articles reprinted here address different aspects of Cage by authors from a number of different disciplines. If such a volume of divergent yet widely available work is to be of value to the reader, then the juxtaposition of articles must yield insights beyond those offered by the individual articles themselves.
The series editors clearly elucidate the goal of each volume of the October Files series. Each book aims to trace the development of an important oeuvre as well as the construction of its discourse. In other words, when read together, the articles should construct a metahistorical or metacritical picture of the field. The series preface (on p. vii of the book under review here) also adds that each volume should serve as a "primer" to each particular art practice, and that it should stand "in resistance to the amnesia and antitheoretical tendencies of our time." Given these criteria, I assert that while there may he significant value to juxtaposing previously published studies in one volume, this volume is not entirely successful, despite the clear value of some of the individual articles.
The volume is arranged chronologically and contains work by Heinz-Klaus Metzger, Konrad Boehmer, Yvonne Rainer, David W. Patterson, Branden W. Joseph, Liz. Kotz, Rebecca Y. Kim, and Julia Robinson. The best articles in the collection are the ones that remind us how revolutionary Cage was at one point in time, and how his contemporaries found his work to be incredibly provocative -- socially and politically -- even long before he wrote some of his most overtly political pieces. The least successful articles in the collection are more about the myriad artists who were influenced by Cage than about Cage, or more importantly, Cage's music. In her article "Looking Myself in the Mouth," Yvonne Rainer points up the fact that what Cage and Merce Cunningham did was to open up "a veritable Pandora's Box" that "launched in clue course a thousand dancers', composers', writers', and performance artists' ships" (p. 37). While this is an incredibly important notion to grasp for a deeper understanding of the avant-garde art. world of the second half of the twentieth century, it also feels like territory well mapped.
The most compelling articles in the collection are the ones that are snapshots of the time in which they were written. The oldest. articles in the collection, Heinz-Klaus Metzger's "John Cage, or Liberated Music" (1959) and Konrad Boehmer's "Chance as Ideology" (1967) are excellent examples of the state of thinking on Cage and his oeuvre during that time period. Instead of dealing directly with Cage's most infamous work, 4 '3 3 ", and his connection to "silence," Metzger chose to focus on Cage's approach to lime. He asserted that Cage's music is a challenge to the idea of time as paramount. in music, constituting a "rebellion against music as the real passage of time" amt the resulting body of work as a "musical utopia" (p. 5). By focusing on works such Music for Piano, Concert firr Piano awl Orchestra, Winter Music, and Vafialions Metzger SCCITIS to be postulating Cage's position a.s a true composer, not as die charlatan who was known in the popular press to have made "that silent piece."
Bochmer's article, on the other' hand, is a pointed critique of what he identified a.s Cage's most common and misguided tendency: the "isolation of sounds from one another" (p. 23). For the time period in which it was written this article is somewhat unique. Despite Boehmer's position as a clear champion of scrialism, he is not dismissive of Cage as the "guru of noise" or as the "anything goes" anarchist. On the contrary, Boehmer demonsnates an intimate knowledge of Cage's work and has clearly spent. time reading Cage's philosophy. These two articles work well together; both illuminate the camps that sprang up in the mid-twentieth century, pro or contra Cage, and thejuxtaptyzntion is indeed enriching.
Yvonne Rainer's essay "Looking Myself in the Mouth" (1981) is also a product of the era in which it was written. Her perspective as a dancer-united-filmmaker results in an interesting and informative discussion of how Cage influenced her and her peers' understanding of narrative. She is one of the myriad artists whose ship was launched In project.
Patterson's article, "Cage and Asia: History and Sources," was originally published as a significant part of his award-winning dissertation; then revised and reprinted in the Cambridge Companion to fatal Cage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). While subsequent authors in the October Files collection refer to Patterson's work, it is already so widely available and well known that its inclusion seems redundant here.
It is at the half-way point. in the book that I lose the sense of productive juxtaposition. In her review of this volume for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Marjorie Pedal singled out the essays by Joseph ("John Cage and the Architecture of Silence," originally published in October in 1997) and Kotz ("Post-Cagean Aesthetics and the Event Score," originally published in October in 2001) as the two strongest inclusions ("The Natural Look," Los Angeles Review of Books, 2 November 2011, retrieved from http://lareviewofbooks.orglpost./223800998/the-natural-look, accessed 10 January 2012). I find Joseph's analogy of Cagean strticture to architectural movements weak: Silence may be analogous to a window, but to what end? Kotz's work includes strong archival research on the FLUXUS movement and Cage's classes at the New School for Social Research in the 1950s. However, the focus was placed too squarely on the students, their work and aesthetics, and in this context seemed too divergent from Cage.
The last two articles in the volume are not. readily available via a quick database search and may make the volume worth the price. Kim's article, "The Formalization of Indeterminacy in 1958: John Cage and Experimental Composition at. the New School," is a modified chapter from her dissertation, "In No I'ncertain Musical Terms: The Cultural Politics of John Cage's Indeterminacy" (PhD diss., Columbia University, 2008). Robinson's work, "John Cage and Investiture: Unmanning the System" is a substantially revised version of the essay she wrote for the exhibition catalog The Anarchy (if Silence: John Cage and Experimental Art (Barcelona: Museu d'Art Contemporani 2009)
The most interesting Cage studies are the ones which successfully con textualize Cage and his work. As editor of the volume, Robinson has the unique luxury of being able to reference each of the articles in this collection. Additionally, she places Cage in the context of the mid-twentieth-century abstract expressionist art world, psychoanalysis, and the social theory of Foucault arid the constructs of "discourse," "perfor"nativity," and "symbolic investiture." Her article carefully identifies key moments in Cage's biography as moments of "symbolic investiture"; this causes Perloff to complain in the aforementioned review that Robinson implies throughout "that the apparently gentle Cage was on an extended power trip."
While Perloff reads Robinson's work as a commentary on Cage's ego, I find it to focus too much on the idea of "unmanning the system." Robinson finds Cage's work an intentional "deskilling" or "disempowering" of the composer, and as a result, a deconstruction of music and musical traditions. For example, Robinson writes: "With 4'33" the composer gestures toward such receptive conditions, asserting a fragile structure to evacuate old content. What we are left with is a new dynamic between composerperformer-audience, without the power relations, an unmanned creative (un)struclure, in a word: 'indeterminacy" (p. 197). She diverges from recent scholarship that places Cage inside the musical tradition. Robinson's position is problematic; after all, at the end of his career Cage was yet another "composer/genius" and he retains the hallmarks of a traditional composer. His work does not represent a new power relation between composer, performer and audience, despite the indeterminacy.
In her review of this volume, Perloff writes that Robinson "seems to have chosen her contributors with an eye to attacking the soft spots of Cagean ideology." While some of the articles are written with a critical edge, too many are not sufficiently critical, especially given the series editor's stress on theory and resistance. Robinson's article is also the only contemporary article that serves the purpose of "primer," as it is the only one that addresses Cage's work over an extended period of his career. In fact, the new Cage scholar should read Robinson's article first.
This last observation regards a significant omission in the collection. Ian Pepper translated both the Metzger and Boehmer articles, which were printed for the first time in English in issue 82 of October (Autumn 1997). Included in the same issue (pp. 30-47) is Pepper's article "'The Aesthetics of Difference' to 'Negative Aesthetics': John Cage and Germany 1958-1972." Pepper not only deals directly with the work of Meager and Bochmer, but also with Adorno's criticism and how it colored the German reception of Cage. If the intent of the series is to indeed juxtapose articles which stand in dialog with each other, then the omission of Pepper's article seems peculiar. At least with the help of JSTOR we can easily add his work to the hard copy of this volume.
SARA HAEFELI Ithaca College