Cage’s exploration into the very nature of what constitutes “music” had a profound influence on twentieth century composers, yet his work has proven more ephemeral than that of most composers due to its reliance on chance and improvisation. He was a conceptual artist before that term existed. In this series, his long-lost multi- layered “thought experiment,” How to Get Started, is rediscovered in spontaneous live performances, providing a transformative glimpse into the deepest recesses of the creative mind.
Symphony Space is pleased to recreate this most challenging performance piece in celebration of his centenary. The work – if one can really call it “a work” – it seems to be more of “a concept given a form” - addresses the nature of improvisation and the creative process through a unique, improvised multi-layered performance.
The instructions for How to Get Started ask the performer to select ten subjects of particular interest to him/her and to write each topic on a sheet of paper. The performer then selects the topics randomly and speaks for no more than three minutes on each one. Each commentary is recorded and played against the next commentary until all ten commentaries are heard simultaneously. By leaving pauses randomly in each recitation and by varying the sound levels of the playback, the accumulated tracks of sound resemble more a composite statement of thought and emotion than the Tower of Babel. The resulting 10-track performance becomes a commentary on the nature of creation and the role of improvisation. It also speaks to the media and sensory overload which is virtually inescapable in today’s world.
Effectively, a generation has passed since Cage first performed “How to Get Started,” and while his concept is based in ancient principles, the resulting work will still seem avant garde to most audiences. These performances hopefully will make audiences reconsider what is art, how art is created, and what is the role of the performer and creator in the genesis of a work.
John Cage’s centenary is celebrated in this rare performance of Cage’s 1989 How To Get Started-a collaborative experiment exploring improvisation and the origin of ideas. The performers bring ten ideas on notecards, choose them in random order, and extemporize on each one as they are recorded and played back in real time, creating a multi- layered, spontaneous, and absolutely singular “thought performance.” Even the same performer cannot replicate his/her performance on a second attempt. The result is transformative, and provides a rare look into the creative mind, especially when two brilliant individuals offer back to back performances followed by discussion that promises to be probing, revealing, and unexpected.
In remounting this ‘happening,’ some of today’s most fertile and creative minds from across the arts perform their own realizations. Each of the three evenings pairs a writer and musician who know each other, and, in the case of the Shawns, are brothers. What will be revealed by each “performer,” and the conversation between pairs on each evening will be a mystery solved in the moment. The series is presented in collaboration with The Threepenny Review, the Slought Foundation and the John Cage Trust.