More than 40 players will perform works composed or inspired by the experimental composer, all around Town Hall Seattle on Nov. 19. There will even be amplified plants.
Every nook and cranny of Town Hall Seattle will be filled with the John Cage Musicircus this Saturday (Nov. 19).
More than 40 players will perform works composed or inspired by the experimental composer, known for such works as 4’33”, a four-minute-and-33-second work that instructs musicians not to touch their instruments; his use of prepared piano, or a piano whose sound is altered by things stuck inside it; and his instrumental role in creating modern dance with Centralia-born Merce Cunningham.
The instrumental lineup includes keyboards, percussion, guitar, voice, boomboxes, electronics and amplified plants (yes, you read that right). Lectures and dance will be thrown in for good measure.
7 p.m. Nov. 19, Town Hall Seattle, 1119 Eighth Ave.; adults $5-$15 pay-what-you-can; free for youth (johncage.brownpapertickets.com).
The event is the brainchild of percussionist Melanie Voytovich, a doctoral candidate at University of Washington School of Music. In an interview earlier this month, she said that when she began music school in 2004, her experience of new music was “nil” and she was “very resistant to it at first.” Cage (1912-1992) eventually won her over, however, and she’d like to share her enthusiasm.
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“My aim as a performer and producer,” she declares, “is to create accessible new music that people find not intimidating.”
At the Musicircus you’ll be able to move around freely, investigating 10 sites where things are happening. Performances unfold over a three-hour period (“Some things will definitely overlap”), and Voytovich is using Cage’s chance methods to determine how much of it fits together. Those methods include consultations of the I Ching, Cage’s practice in his later career. Several of his early, contemplative, Asian-influenced works, including his gorgeous “In a Landscape,” will be heard, too. Voytovich herself tackles “Composed Improvisations for Snare Drum,” and is joined by percussionists Paul Hansen, Bonnie Whiting and Storm Benjamin for Cage’s downright danceable “Third Construction.”
Some pieces will be performed twice in different versions. (“I was interested in doubles,” Voytovich says.) “In a Landscape,” for instance, turns up in both its traditional piano version, with KING-FM’s Maggie Molloy at the keyboard, and in a transcription for guitarist accompanied by a dancer. “Child of Tree” for amplified plants (usually the plucking of cactus thorns, Voytovich explains) will be performed by two different percussionists. In pieces where “indeterminacy” offers performers multiple musical options to follow, there should be radical differences in the two versions you hear.
Middle-school and high-school musicians join the professionals on a few works, and the scheduled “lectures” aren’t just talks. Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing,” for example, features Seattle cult artist ilvs strauss dancing in time to her recording of Cage’s enigmatic text.
A few pieces aren’t by Cage at all. Compositions by his teacher Henry Cowell and his student Toshi Ichiyanagi are part of the mix. Seattle composer Tom Baker and performance artist Xavier Lopez debut their own Cage-inspired works. Ania Ptasznik, a Seattle spatial analyst and computer programmer, will do 20 minutes of live coding based on the I Ching.
“That one I can’t wait for,” Voytovich says. “It’s going to be a visual and sound thing.”
When Voytovich moved to Seattle four years ago, she was only dimly aware of Cage’s 1938-1939 stint at Cornish College of the Arts, where he developed the prepared piano. But his local connection “definitely amps up this performance for me,” she says. She’s eager to lure younger musicians to Town Hall, and tickets for students under 18 are free.
“I have a degree in education, and a lot of the stuff I do,” she notes, “I’d like to put some sort of education twist on it. So if I can inspire a kid to even just go to YouTube and look up a Cage video, or go find out what this music looks like — how can this strange music possibly be notated — then that’s exciting for me.”