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John Cage and the Twenty-six Pianos of Mills College. Forces in American Music from 1940 to 1990. Nathan Rubin. 1994. Copyright 1994 by Sarah's Books, 101 Devin Drive, Moraga, California 94556. 544w

John Cage

Lowell Cross and David Behrman, both of whom served as Mills College Tape Center directors, took part in the presentation of Reunion in 1968. Cage wrote and directed the score for the Cunningham dance piece which commemorated the opening of the Haas Pavilion in 1969.

Cage had also returned to the campus in 1968 to do his Variations II. The event included a reading of Satie's musique d'ameublement, which he called the French composer's "most far-reaching discovery" (because it was intended to be played but not listened to, offering a kind of mirror image to his own 4'33," an unperformed piece which was meant to be heard).

Cage was further piqued by the fact that the University of Illinois' John Garvey had refused a gift of three of the pieces. "So seeing that," Cage said, "I performed it at Mills in California when the occasion arose."16

The occasion arose on May 13, the date on which the Music Department had scheduled him to present a concert. Nobody except Cage knew the occasion was about to arise, or anything else about the event, until several hours before it was supposed to begin.

Nevertheless, a capacity audience took its seats. And, at the prescribed time, an event did indeed begin, as if by chance. Cage and Lowell Cross played chess: the first move started the piece; the last one ended it. David Tudor electronically modulated the sounds made by the amplified chess board. Anthony Gnazzo, the Tape Center co-director (with Cross) appeared onstage wrapped in recording tape. A student climbed a ladder. Photographs were projected onto the Concert Hall walls. A bar set up near Cage dispensed margaritas. An audience member, coming up, asked for one (and got it). At least fifty other people, following him onstage, crowded around Cage, requested autographs, stared at the electronics equipment, and turned themselves into performers.

The San Francisco music critics walked out, "almost in step," noted Oakland Tribune reviewer Paul Hertelendy, "like a diplomatic delegation."17

"Popcorn popped, a typewriter tapped, a toaster ticked, a writer read, a fiddler faddled, a hippie hopped and a tape-worm turned," said Hertelendy happily. Through much of it, a small orchestra, alternating their playings with periods of silence, repeated the sixteen-note Satie piece a hundred and twenty-two times. Afterwards, the orchestra went off and a tape recording made by it continued in its place.

"The show, in fact, was one of the most bizarre since the Marquis de Sade manipulated the inmate-actors for his shut-in theater at the Charenton insane asylum," said Hertelendy. "Or was it Charenton all over again?"

When it ended, a third of the audience stayed in their seats, still hearing the Furniture Music (which Satie had intended not to be heard at all).

He also received an eight-column review from the Oakland Tribune following a performance of Variations III(jh?) on May 13, 1968 in the Mills Concert Hall.

Cage, says The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, had a greater impact on world music than any other American composer of the twentieth century.


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