John Cage & Consequences

John Cage / Joan La Barbara

Cage & Consequences

John Cage

John Cage

© Christopher Felver

Past Dates

The singer and experimental music vocalist Joan La Barbara, who worked closely with John Cage, opens the MaerzMusik Festival with a new production of his emblematic Song Books (1970) in a simultaneous performance with the Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1958) by her New York-based Ensemble Ne(x)tworks and the bona fide experts in John Cage’s vocal works, the Berlin-based Maulwerkern.

The Concert for Piano and Orchestra, which premiered in 1958 at New York’s Town Hall with David Tudor at the piano and Cage’s friend Merce Cunningham as conductor, was met with resounding rejection as well as a warm reception, as it spelled the height of indeterminacy in music and a clear refusal to follow strict composing rules as well as a declaration of freedom for interpreters, listeners and the notes themselves. “The only consistent thing in this piece was that I didn’t have to be consistent”, said John Cage.
Cage considered the Song Books, a collection of short works, to be suitable for being performed simultaneously with this concert. It contains songs, songs with electronics, directions for theatrical performances and theatrical performances with electronics. They can be performed by one or more singers, in any order and overlapping. The diversity of the Song Books’ open notation systems and performance materials – from traditional notations, graphic notations, typographically arranged texts, drawings to photographs – require a high degree of independence and imaginativeness as well as virtuosity in performing. Random operations can assist the performers in making decisions, determining courses of time and establishing plots and stage movements in the non-narrative pieces. The texts in the Song Books are by Henry David Thoreau, Marcel Duchamp, Buckminster Fuller, Marshall McLuhan and Friedrich Schiller, among others. Some are connected to one another, others not.

John Cage became Joan La Barbara’s friend and mentor by answering her questions with questions. “His lasting effect on my music lies in problem solving: layering disparate elements in ways that defy logic but provide surprising results. And you will hear this in my new work Persistence of Memory which juxtaposes sudden sonic outbursts with angular musical phrases and motives, sometimes startling, sometimes soothing, with hammering rhythms, muscular jolts and lightning bolts, punctuating the presence of sound with absence, silence as frame”, says Joan La Barbara.
With his film that accompanies this work, Alexsandar Kostic has created a complementary visual tier that effectively co-exists simultaneously rather than serves to illustrate.

John Cage
Song Books (1970)
Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1958)
New production premiere

Joan La Barbara
Persistence of Memory
for chamber music ensemble, ‘sonic atmosphere’ and electronics, with a fim by Aleksandar Kostic (2012) W

Song Books
Joan La Barbara, artistic direction
Volker Straebel, scenic dramaturgy
Harald Frings, light design
Martin Supper, sound direction
Thomas Koch, assistant sound direction

Persistence of Memory
Ne(x)tworks: Joan La Barbara, voice / Stephen Gosling, piano / Yves Dharamraj, cello / Ariana Kim, violin / Christopher McIntyre, trombone / Miguel Frasconi, glass instruments · computer / Shelley Burgon, harp · computer

Maulwerker: Michael Hirsch / Ariane Jeßulat / Henrik Kairies / Christian Kesten / Katarina Rasinski / Steffi Weismann

In collaboration with DAAD: Berlin Artists-in-Residence programme and The American Academy in Berlin.