I am listening as I type to a 2-hour interview with musical selections and q & a with John Cage that I heard in person at the Exploratorium on January 8, 1987. It changed my life. I wrote about it in my PhD thesis, but only from memory. Now the amazing, wonderful people at ubuweb (see link in blog post list) have posted the MP3 of that very day.
Perhaps you cannot imagine the profound joy this gives me. The link to this is here: John Cage at Exploratorium in 1987 so you can hear for yourself and then understand.
John Cage changed my life because he said: listen to all sound as music and that his job as a composer was to make the composer obsolete, which was my feeling about my role as a director. I will type when the music he created (from random chance operations) is playing and will stop typing when he speaks. This will be my parameter.
I had recently stopped drinking when I first heard him. I had been having an anxiety attack that evening and my dear friend Christian, my one and only friend at the time who understood what I was doing with my life at the time, brought me to this amazing event.
I had heard of John Cage, but even though I had graduated from a university where he had been in residence in the 1960s was not acquainted with the depth of his thought or achievements. I had been enamoured of a concert I had seen composed by a friend at Wesleyan in 1986 wherein he tapped a spoon against the concrete Crowell Concert hall, looking mischievously happy in his holey reddish sweater and tousled hair. That was the kind of guy I always fell for at the time. Well, still do actually. I thought: wow, will I ever be that cool?
But, I digress...this was, I realize now, me being exposed to Cage's legacy but I didn't know that at the time.
Interview again...and because the rest is him talking, some quotations from the interview and q&a:
"From my point of view I'm always starting over again."
"...not so much a mood as a desire to hear something I've never heard before...I write music in order to hear it. And I try to find ways of doing that that will succeed."
"instead of self-expression I'm involved in self-alteration"
"asking questions that are as radical as I can make them...with chance operations...to bring about an experience with sound I've never had."
"Zen monk: now that I'm enlightened I'm as miserable as ever. I don't mean to say I'm enlightened but I think I am less confused."
"the purpose of music is to sober and quiet the mind and thus make is susceptible to divine influences."
"I was making music without intending to...I decided to go in the direction of non-intention."
"to show with the silent piece [4'33"] that there were sounds all the time"
"government could very well lose our attention"
"in sense the connection tends to be single and nonsense is rich and the connections are not fixed"
"each one of us should live originally"
"I do not own a music playing machine. I just listen to the sounds around me."
Having spent the last two hours listening to the artist who perhaps makes me happier than anyone on the planet, I am now happily exhausted. So I will leave you with these quotes and the link to hear the interview and some of his music. I am amazed, re-listening to this event 24 1/2 years later, how much it did affect me as an artist and as a person.
My emotional memory from that date was having that quivering sense of recognition one gets when listening to someone who seems to have words for all the inchoate ideas and emotions in one's own soul that have not yet found articulation. I was outside the main hall, so saw Cage's face on a large screen and it appeared as if he had some kind of halo of light around him. That sounds crazy religious I know, but it wasn't that. It was simply a light. Whatever anxiety I was feeling melted away into the sanity of his words and his music and his presence.
There were 10 minutes cut off from the first sound file, which I am trying to get to play but as my internet connection is glacially slow, I will post this before that happens. If he discusses some of the things I remember him discussing but did not hear yet, will mention it tomorrow.
For now, I'm just happy I picked a good hero, who has so far not diminished in my eyes. In fact, he was central to my PhD thesis as a primary example of an artist practitioner who is also a philosopher - through the events he created - and if anything his influence is more profound on me with each passing year.
Welcome to my blog..
"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty
When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.
I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.
As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. So blessed for the opportunity and hope to find a more permanent job doing same.
I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with having written a rough draft of a new book and some other projects.
Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.
For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani
Recently, I started a website Our Grandmothers, Our Selves, which has stories about many people's grandmothers. Please check it out. I will be blogging there, too, now.