1. I went to the John Cage Tribute at St. Mark's Church and got there
hour after it started.
2. Participants had to limit whatever they did to four minutes
and thirty three seconds, but otherwise had free rein to do a John
3. The time limit is a reference to Cage's most notorious work, 4'33,"
in which the musician does not play the piano for that length of time,
but merely opens and closes the key cover to indicate three
4. Most participants seemed to be reading mesostics.
5. A mesostic is a word game in which a text is drawn from a larger
text by finding a vertical alignment of letters in the source text
which form a word or phrase.
6. Cage made numerous mesostics using James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake as
7. The place, a back room of the church, was crowded and all the seats
were taken so I sat on the floor.
8. Much of the audience seemed to be made up of Cage's friends, or at
least contemporaries, and probably a lot of famous names from the art
history books were participating.
9. Irving "Triumph of American Painting" Sandler was there, as was
Merce Cunningham, who was in a wheelchair.
10. It looked like a nursing home for retirees of the New York avant
11. The order of readings was determined by some chance operation.
12. Performers' names were drawn from a hat or something.
13. A man sitting on the floor in front of me was called and he went to
the microphone and explained that in his piece he would use a text of
Cage's he found on the Internet.
14. He encouraged the audience to audibly respond to his performance
and express any feelings that arose, any emotional resonance we had
with the text he was reading.
15. This instruction, or request, struck me as markedly unCagean, since
Cages' instructions seemed to me intended to remove the composition and
performance of a work from "subjective" intentions.
16. The text this performer began to read was, I think, such a set of
instructions, involving numerical measurements of space and/or time to
be used in the production of the piece.
17. If I could name a mental state this reading resonated with, it
might be "puzzled ennui."
18. My attention wandered and I didn't get most of what he was reading.
19. The reader, whose name I didn't get, and who might be famous, for
all I know, was a trim African-American who had the manner and build of
a dancer, or some other kind of professional performer.
20. Soon after he started reading, two young men who had also been
sitting on the floor near me got up and danced behind him.
21. One of the dancers carried a lit Chinese lantern on a pole.
22. One of the dancers took a large pillow and began pulling feathers
from it and stuffing them in his mouth.
23. It looked like a gay parody of performance art and the reader kept
pausing to urge the audience to react and speak up.
24. "You can applaud, if you want," he said, and some people clapped.
25. He was reading a list of names and someone timidly called out "Yay"
for one of the more famous names.
26. Otherwise, there was little audience involvement.
27. I looked around at the faces of these seekers of advanced art.
28. The spectators were either passively waiting to be entertained or
were pretending they were delighted with the man eating the feathers.
29. I saw Judith Malina sitting in the audience.
30. Judith Malina and Julian Beck founded the Living Theater a
million years ago, a revolutionary cultural cadre that tried to break
down the invisible barrier between performer and spectator to invite
participation in a kind of mystery rite of utopian liberation.
31. Judith Malina looked bored.
32. I thought it was pretty clear the performers were trying to provoke
us, to dare us to interrupt, or protest, or otherwise respond
authentically to their send-up of the avant garde.
33. The audience was either too shy or too jaded to do anything but sit
34. I felt moved to do something to stop this inanity.
35. I cupped my hands to my mouth and shouted, "SILENCE!"
36. The reader instantly stopped.
37. The hall was quiet.
38. The dancers were still.
39. I looked around, expecting someone else to yell something,
anything, but no one did.
40. Everyone waited to see what would follow.
41. It was for me an uncomfortably long wait until I shouted,
"CONTINUE!" and the reader and dancers resumed the performance.
42. I thought maybe now the audience would get it and voice their own
commands or complaints, but the performance went on and I realized the
audience thought I was part of the act and that my interventions were
43. I was now the conductor and composer of the piece.
44. "PRESTO!" I called out, and the reader read faster for a few
seconds until I yelled "ANDANTE!"
45. It was very weird to violate the taboo against spectator
interruption and it felt the kind of dream where you become aware it is
a dream, a lucid dream.
46. Now it was my happening, baby!
47. My final command to the performers was "DON'T OBEY," a logical
paradox I hoped would cause the game to breakdown, but the reader kept
at it for the remaining seconds of the four minutes, thirty three
seconds and there was applause for the four of us.
48. When the actual performance artist returned he thanked me for my
49. I told him I didn't mean to take over and had assumed the audience
would catch on.
50. "Its all just a Big Con," he explained.
51. Jason, I prepared the text by numbering the sentences.
52.There are sixty sentences.
53. I will read them in an order determined by chance.
54. If I have 45 minutes (2700 seconds), each sentence would be
allotted 45 seconds.
55. I could stretch each sentence to fill the 45 seconds by pausing
between each sentence, or I could use Cage's technique of reading
faster or slower.
56. I did a runthrough and it took 26 minutes.
57. I have to find a way to use the other 19 minutes.
58. I haven't figured out how to measure the time for each sentence.
59. I would like to keep time in a way that would be easy to do and
humorous to watch.
60. I am all for entertaining the audience.