by Liza Mitchell
The University of North Florida in partnership with members of Jacksonville’s creative community will sponsor a multi-venue event to celebrate the centennial birthday of revolutionary artist – composer John Cage.
“Circus of Happenings: A Chance Determined Series of Arranged Convergence,” featuring performances by numerous regional and local artists, opens the festival Saturday, March 24 at the CoRK Arts District, 2689 Rosselle Street.
Following events include the screening of Henning Lohner’s documentary film The Revenge of the Dead Indians: In Memoriam of John Cage and performances by sound artist Jaap Blonk, violinist Tom Chiu and pianist Louis Goldstein. All events are free and open to the public.
The film will be shown at 7 pm on Monday, March 26 at MOCA-Jacksonville, 133 N. Laura Street. The film recognizes Cage’s significance to generations of artists in a montage featuring 42 musicians, actors, visual artists including Frank Zappa, Yoko Ono and Dennis Hopper.
Festival organizer Dr. Clark Lunberry, an associate professor of English at UNF, said it was important that the festival honor Cage’s contribution to the art world in multiple disciplines. Cage is revered as the Godfather of American avant-garde music for altering the definition and perception.
“For decades, Cage is someone who has been seen as an enormously influential and important figure not just in music but in writing, theatre and visual arts,” Lunberry says. “He has been very important to me for a long time and I saw the 100th anniversary of his birthday as a good opportunity to organize a tribute to him.”
Born in 1912, John Cage used musical instruments, radios, record players and tape recorders to manipulate sounds and effectively altered the boundaries of traditional American music. He believed that all activities that make up music must be viewed as a single, natural process and encouraged the notion that all the noise around us can be beautiful.
Lunberry said he didn’t originally set out to organize a five-day festival. Rather, he planned to host a singular concert event featuring pianist Louis Goldstein, who regularly performs Cage’s work. Goldstein will present two of his most renowned pieces ‘Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano’ and ‘433,’ during which the artist sits at the piano for four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence.
While Lunberry says that ‘Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano’ is widely revered as the more conceptual piece using the “prepared piano” Cage created by wedging items between the piano strings to create a percussive sound. He believes that Cage, however, “would consider ‘433’ to be equally if not more musical in its silence.”
Goldstein will present the works of Cage during two performances at 11 am and 7:30 pm Friday, March 30 at Riverside’s Friday Musicale, 645 Oak Street.
It was after booking Dutch sound artist Jaap Blonk, who creates a sonic symphony with his voice using ordinary phonetic sounds, and violinist Tom Chiu, founder of the esteemed FLUX Quartet, that Lunberry said he realized his small Tribute to Cage had the makings of something bigger.
Blonk will perform at 7 pm Tuesday, March 27 at MOCA-Jacksonville, 133 N. Laura Street. Chiu will present a program of rarely heard works for solo stringed instruments at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 28 at the J. Johnson Gallery, 177 4th Avenue North in Jacksonville Beach.
“The whole festival came together slowly and kind of unsystematically,” Lunberry says. “Cage always said to embrace accidents and allow things to fall into place.”
Despite all of his success and accolades, Cage remains a controversial figure, particularly in the world of academia. Lunberry says Cage’s work is rejected by some who think he “went too far” with his inventive and unorthodox compositions. Others view his work as extraordinary.
“His work was so profoundly experimental in its nature, so revolutionary in the ways in which he perceived sound as music. Some completely dismiss his work as reckless while, for others, it is the heart of their program,” Lunberry says. “Both sides would agree that he is an important and polarizing figure and I think Cage would have embraced that.”
by Liza Mitchell