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University of Iowa News Release


Jan. 27, 2012

UI Center for New Music celebrates John Cage centennial Feb. 12

The University of Iowa Center for New Music (CNM) will join in the worldwide celebration of the birth centennial of John Cage, one of the most important and influential American artists of the 20th century, with a series of free, public events on Sunday, Feb. 12:

--A performance of "Sonatas and interludes" by pianist Patricia von Blumröder at 12:30 p.m. in Room 2780 of the University Capitol Centre.
--A panel discussion at 1:45 p.m. in Room 2780.
--"Lecture on Nothing" narrated by University of Michigan musicologist Mark Clague, at 3 p.m. in Room 2780.
--A staging of Cage's 1967 "happening" called "Musicircus," filling the entire second floor of the Old Capitol Centre and featuring more than 400 musicians, dancers and readers performing simultaneously at 4 p.m.
--A concert by the CNM Ensemble featuring Cage compositions from the 1930s to the 1970s at 7:30 p.m. in the Riverside Recital Hall.

UI School of Music faculty member Nathan Platte notes, "It's hard to wrap one's mind around the life and work of John Cage. Hailed as a maverick and provocateur who radically re-imagined the musical experience, he was also an astonishingly approachable and charming individual--a good listener. The John Cage Celebration will illuminate a broad a swath of his creative trajectory: from the whimsically profound 'Lecture on Nothing' to the beguiling textures of 'Forever and Sunsmell,' from the meditative Sonatas and Interludes to the multi-tasking 'Musicircus.'"

Von Blumröder, a UI alumna based in Frankfurt, Germany, has performed in concerts, radio broadcasts, and television appearances in Europe and America, often expressing her keen interest in the new music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Her performances of Cage's Sonatas Interludes have won critical acclaim.

The panel discussion will feature von Blumröder, Clague, Platte, UI emeritus faculty member Lowell Cross, and Laura Kuhn, director of the John Cage Trust.

Cage invented "happenings" in the 1950s and these events, which were themselves not just performances but works of conceptual art, remained popular through the 1960s and into the 1970s. "Musicircus" was first staged in 1967 in a livestock-judging arena while Cage was at the University of Illinois.

CNM Director David Gompper described the event as "a real 'flash mob,' where anything goes. It will be loud, soft, cacophonous, unexpected (at a micro-level). Dancers will use the escalators on either end, and projections will be set up. Theatre people will read stories and I hope to engage Writers' Workshop students as well."

The evening concert by the CNM Ensemble will include "First Construction in Metal" (1939) for six percussionists, "Speech" (1955) for five radios and newsreader; "44 Harmonies from Apartment House 1776" (1976) for string quartet; "Forever and Sunsmell" (1942) for soprano and two percussionists; Six Short Inventions (1934) for flute, clarinet, trumpet, violin, two violas, and cello; and Concerto for Prepared Piano and Ensemble (1950-51).

Cage is best known to the general public for a single piece from 1952, "4'33"," in which no notes are played at all for the stipulated duration, to refocus the concept of a concert from playing music to listening to the sounds of the environment in which the performance occurs. The piece was controversial and identified Cage as a iconoclastic prankster, but he was a "serious" and multi-faceted artist -- composer, author, philosopher, music theorist, visual artist, and an important collaborator in the development of modern dance. His work drew on influences including the "found art" of Marcel Duchamap and eastern philosophies, especially Zen.

As a composer Cage was a pioneer in the use of nonstandard or altered instruments and electroacoustic sounds, and an advocate for indeterminacy and chance, which has been labeled "aleatoric" music, from the Latin word for dice. Among hiss important early collaborators were choreographer Merce Cunningham and visual artist Robert Rauschenberg. At Black Mountain College they created performances that investigated the combination of chance movement, visual and sound elements.

Cage's classes at the New School in New York were a source of the Fluxus international network of artists -- including Christo, Yoko Ono, Terry Riley, and Nam June Paik -- a playful extension of Dadaism that is documented in the Alternative Traditions in Contemporary Art collection at the UI.

Later he used chance combinations drawn from the practices of the I Ching to determine compositions and recombinations of recorded material, and in his later life he turned increasingly to literature, including processes for transformatting texts into music.

He explained, "My work became an exploration of nonintention." And he once described his music as "a purposeless play" that is "an affirmation of life -– not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we're living."

The Center for New Music and the School of Music are parts of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

UI arts events are searchable on the UI Master Calendar: Exhibitions are searchable at To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click on the link "Subscribe or Unsubscribe" and follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: David Gompper,; Winston Barclay, University News Services,