Tuesday, January 06, 2009

wire walk

John Cage performs Water Walk on a popular TV show and Frank Zappa plays his bicycle on Steve Allen - aside from going together via the subject of music, these two videos comprise a very interesting comment on how American culture has changed over the past few decades. When was the last time a variety show (or any show) allowed so much time for these kinds of performances? It was refreshing to see an environment where things were allowed to happen organically, and no one was being rushed along to make room for the next guest. Neither show was the least bit concerned with boring their audience or showing them something they might not want to see. And even though they made jokes here and there, the hosts were respectful, and they weren't dripping with cynicism, irony, or condescension (neither was the perplexed and amused audience). The jokes themselves seemed to be joyful, tolerant, and appreciative.

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In one of the extra features on the Man on Wire DVD, someone remarked that when most people looked at the World Trade Center they saw two towers, but when Philippe Petit looked at the World Trade Center, he saw the space between them. I was reminded of this while thinking about John Cage's piece 4′33″ (four minutes and thirty-three seconds where no instrument is played) and hearing Cage talk about silence.

4'33" helps to highlight the noises that exist over a performance by taking away the performance itself, and by highlighting them Cage is asking us to reconsider what constitutes "music." What's left are the human sounds of life: the turning of paper, coughing, rustling feet, bodies shifting etc. -- all the things that add to the sound of a live performance but are almost never considered a part of the performance. 4'33" shows us that we don't really hear or appreciate sounds because they are so often taken for granted, or, what probably lies at the root of the misunderstanding, we categorize them: music, noise, silence, etc. When I heard Cage remark that, all over the world, silence is now the sound of traffic, I realized that silence is perhaps better defined as whatever sound we hear when we choose to tune into everything at once. Not as some specific "anti-thing", but what we hear when we choose to include, listen to, and notice what lies "between the buildings."

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