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Frank Zappa, John Cage, Patti Smith & others celebrate William S. Burroughs at the Nova Convention

Nova Convention
 
In 1978, after many years of living in London and Tangiers, William S. Burroughs decided to return to his home country. For a small group of artistic weirdos, this was a significant event, and a convention was held in his honor at the Entermedia Theater from November 30 through December 2, 1978, on Second Avenue and 12th Street in New York City (it’s no longer there). Much earlier, it had been announced that Keith Richards would be on hand, but after his heroin arrest in Toronto, his management calculated that it would not be wise to appear at a festival honoring the legendary deviant drug addict William S. Burroughs. Frank Zappa was enlisted to read the “Talking Asshole” section from Naked Lunch. Patti Smith, who wore “a glamorous black fur trench” in the words of Thurston Moore, objected mightily to having to follow Zappa and had to be placated by Burroughs confidant and organizer of the convention James Grauerholz, who explained to Smith that Zappa’s appearance was a last-minute necessity and not intended to show Smith up. You can listen to Smith’s contribution, in which she addresses Richards’ absence, here. At the “event party” for the convention, the musical performances included Suicide, The B-52s, and Debbie Harry and Chris Stein from Blondie. The inclusion of The B-52s is most fascinating, as they hadn’t even released their first album yet.
 
William S. Burroughs
 
Other participants included Terry Southern, Philip Glass, John Cage, Laurie Anderson and Allen Ginsburg. You can read a writeup of the event from the December 4, 1978, edition of the New York Times: “Of the other performers, Mr. Burroughs himself was the most appealing, and this had less to do with what he was reading than with how he read it. Although he has created some enduring characters, he is his own most interesting character, and he was in rare form, sitting at a desk in a business suit and bright green hat, shuffling papers and reading in his dry Midwestern accent.” An LP and cassette documenting the event were released in 1979 and they fetch top prices today at Discogs.

According to Ted Morgan in Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs,
 

The Nova Convention took place on November 30, December 1, and December 2, 1978, with the principal performances being held on the last two days at the Entermedia Theater, on Second Avenue and Twelfth Street, which had in the fifties been the fabled Phoenix Theater. Attending were an odd mixture of academics, publishers, writers, artists, punk rockers, counterculture groupies, and an influx of bridge-and-tunnel kids drawn by Keith Richards, who made the event a sellout.

-snip-

Saturday night the Entermedia was packed, largely with young people waiting to see Keith Richards. There was a small hitch, however, which was that Keith Richards had cancelled. He was having problems as the result of a heroin bust in Toronto, and his office convinced him that appearing on the same program with Burroughs was bad publicity.

But the show had to go on, and the composer Philip Glass, playing one of his repetitive pieces on the synthesizer, was thrown to the wolves. The disappointed kids who wanted Keith Richards shouted and booed. Then Brion Gysin went on amid cries of “Where’s Keith?” and found himself hoping that the riot would not start until he had done his brief turn.

In a last-minute effort, James Grauerholz had recruited Frank Zappa to pinch-hit for Keith. He volunteered to read the “Talking Asshole” routine from Naked Lunch. But as Zappa was preparing to go on, Patti Smith had a fit of pique about following him. James did his best to make peace, saying “Frank has come in at the last minute, and he’s got to go on, and he’s doing it for William, not to show you up.” Patti Smith retreated to the privacy of her dressing room, and Zappa got a big hand, because that’s what they wanted, a rock star.

 
From July 1 through July 13, the Red Gallery in London is putting on an exhibition dedicated to the Nova Convention. The exhibition is curated by Thurston Moore and Eva Prinz; Moore, who was present at the event in 1978, supplies a short piece called “Nova Reflections” to the exhibition catalogue; here are some snippets of that:
 

What I remember of the Nova Convention, in my teenage potted reverie, was a palpable excitement of the importance of Burroughs’ return to NYC. He had been living and working in London for some time, and before that, was residing in Tangiers. My awareness of the poets and performers on the Nova Convention bill was obscure, but I did realise everyone there had experienced a history in connection to the man. The poet Eileen Myles performed, and I have a hazy memory of what she has since reminded me was a polarising moment that night: She and a femme cohort came out on stage and performed the so-called William Tell act where in 1951 Burroughs tragically sent a bullet through his wife Joan Vollmer’s skull, killing her instantly. According to Eileen she was hence persona non grata backstage, and frozen out from the coterie of avant lit celebrities shocked at her “reminder” performance.

-snip-

Glass’s idiosyncratic high-speed minimalist pianistics was natural, gorgeous and sublime. Zappa came out and read a Burroughs excerpt “The Talking Asshole” which seemed appropriate and was mildly entertaining. Patti hit the stage in a glamorous black fur trench, purportedly on loan from some high-end clothier. She rambled on a bit, brazenly unscripted, testing the patience of the long night when out of the audience some fan-boy freako leapt on stage and bequeathed her with a Fender Duo-Sonic guitar. She accepted it cooly and before long was gone. And we stumbled into the 2nd Avenue night.

 
In his catalogue piece, Moore leads with an anecdote about photographer James Hamilton, whose astonishing pictures of rock icons are collected in the book (Moore was intergral in putting that book together as well) You Should Have Heard Just What I Seen. Hamilton was covering the event for the Village Voice, and while it’s not stated as such, presumably many of Hamilton’s photographs, are featured in the exhibition.
 
Here’s Timothy Leary, Les Levine, Robert Anton Wilson and Brion Gysin engaging in “conversations” about Burroughs’ work:

 
And here’s Frank Zappa reading “The Talking Asshole” from Naked Lunch:

 
Preview video of the “Nova Convention” exhibition at the Red Gallery:

 
via {feuilleton}

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Surrealist masters, dada directors & avant-garde all stars in ‘Dreams Money Can Buy’


 
Dreams Money Can Buy is a 1947 anthology film made by artist/author Hans Richter and collaborators like Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Leger, Man Ray, Alexander Calder, Max Ernst and others. There is music from John Cage, Paul Bowles and a number by scandalous bisexual torch singer Libby Holman and popular African-American singer Josh White (who was later caught up in the “Red Scare” and black-listed) on the original soundtrack titled “The Girl with the Pre-Fabricated Heart” that plays during Leger’s segment.

Richter’s goal was to bring the avant-garde out of the museum and into the movie house and the results, predictably, are rather unique. Certainly Dreams Money Can Buy must have been a stunner at the time and it still is. With no spoken dialogue, the plot, such that there is one, revolves around a man who rents a room where he can peer into the mirror and see people’s dreams. He sets up shop and we meet his clients and see their interior lives in the dream sequences. As you can imagine with the above list of collaborators, the film is a dizzying treat of audio-visual creation.
 

 
Marcel Duchamp’s contribution “Discs” is especially interesting. Here we see Duchamp’s famous Rotoreliefs in action, with a “prepared piano” soundtrack performed by John Cage. [I was once offered a box of glass and wood reproductions in miniature of Duchamp’s kinetic sculptures—at a good price, too—and like a fucking idiot I passed on it].
 

 
Below, Dreams Money Can Buy in its entirety on YouTube. If you want to watch with the original soundtrack, it’s here. The “modern” soundtrack in the version embedded below was recorded by The Real Tuesday Weld and is pretty faithful to the original music. This is one of those films that demands to be screened outside at night under the stars. You can buy the DVD (which has both the original and modern soundtrack) here.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Famous composers doing normal shit
04.14.2014
07:25 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
John Cage
Prokofiev
Gustav Mahler
Aaron Copland

1114copyard.jpg
 
Whether it’s Aaron Copland raking the leaves in the yard, John Cage picking mushrooms, or Prokofiev playing chess, these photographs show famous composers in their everyday life doing normal everyday shit.
 
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Claude Debussy having a picnic with his daughter.
 
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Sergei Rachmaninoff flies a kite with friends.
 
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Sergei Prokofiev plays chess with violinist David Oistrakh, while another violinist, Liza Gilels watches on.
 
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Caroline Shaw kayaking on the Hudson River.
 
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John Cage picking mushrooms.
 
Via Composers doing normal shit
 
More composers doing normal shit, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Remembering Cathy Berberian, the hippest—and funniest—lady of avant-garde classical music
03.14.2014
11:02 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
John Cage
Cathy Berberian
Luciano Berio


 
Cathy Berberian was an American mezzo-soprano vocalist based in Italy. She was known as a proponent of both avant garde and contemporary vocal music, moving during her career from debuting one of John Cage’s major works, his “Aria with Fontana Mix” composition in 1958, to covering Beatles songs. Cathy Berberian was an opera diva who never took herself too seriously and she was probably the hippest lady in classical music of her day, a sort of spiritual predecessor to Laurie Anderson in certain respects.

Born in 1925, after attending Columbia University, Berberian received a Fulbright scholarship in 1949 to study music at the Milan Conservatory where she would meet her future husband, the great composer Luciano Berio, who would write music for her during their marriage (you might say they were collaborations considering how integral her contribution is!) and afterwards. His Requies: in memoriam Cathy composition premiered the year after her death of a sudden heart attack at the age of 57 in 1983. It’s interesting to note that when she passed, Berberian was to sing “The Internationale” (ala Marilyn Monroe) on TV in Rome to Karl Marx on the anniversary of his birth. That’s the sort of performer Cathy Berberian was. She just didn’t take it all that seriously, and yet, she took her artform very seriously indeed. Pompous, she wasn’t, although she was the most celebrated vocal recitalist of her time spent on Earth.

Sylvano Bussotti, Hans Werner Henze, William Walton and even Igor Stravinsky works for Cathy Berberian’s distinctive voice. She’s even name-checked in the Steely Dan song “Your Gold Teeth” on Countdown to Ecstasy: “Even Cathy Berberian knows / There’s one roulade she can’t sing.” (There’s the answer to that Trivial Pursuit question!) Of his multifaceted wife, Berio said “The versatility of her mind was astonishing.” Aside from her great vocal gifts, she was also a gourmet chef, a fashion model, a collector of pornographic porcelain and she translated Jules Feiffer and Woody Allen’s work into Italian with Umberto Eco.
 

 
But for all of her high-falutin’ musical and intellectual pedigrees, Cathy Berberian was equally known as someone with a wicked sense of humor. Her Revolution album of Beatles covers is a unique and quirky collection indeed, but she really ties together her pop and avant garde inclinations beautifully in her own composition, “Stripsody,” a short vocal piece where she uses comic book exclamations and sounds (Words like “Boing!” “Vrrop vrrop” appear on the sheet music) to get the point across, sounding very much like a humorous version of Cage’s Fontana Mix combined with Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot’s “Comic Strip.”

Here’s a performance of her infamous “Stripsody”:
 

 
More Cathy Berberian after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Cage Against the Machine performs John Cage’s 4’33”
12.11.2013
07:21 am

Topics:
Art
Music

Tags:
John Cage

John Cage
 
The patience that John Cage’s 1952 composition 4’33” asks of us and the apparent absurdity it entails—these things instill a desire to either lampoon it or (on the other hand) wax philosophical. I’ll resist both temptations and simply invite you to hit play (there’s a couple minutes of footage of the musicians gathering before the piece begins).
 

 
As a special bonus, here’s the Nic Cage version:

 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Happy birthday John Cage!
09.05.2013
08:57 am

Topics:
Art
Dance
Music
Queer
Thinkers

Tags:
John Cage


 
John Cage, the musician, musical theorist, artist, composer, philosopher, avid mycologist, writer and one of the leading lights of the 20th century avant garde was born on September 5, 1912. Cage’s iconoclastic approach to music—and everything else he did—is neatly summed up in this short comment:

After I had been studying with him for two years, [Austrian composer Arnold] Schoenberg said, “In order to write music, you must have a feeling for harmony.” I explained to him that I had no feeling for harmony. He then said that I would always encounter an obstacle, that it would be as though I came to a wall through which I could not pass. I said, “In that case I will devote my life to beating my head against that wall.”

Superb! I hate to admit it, but I’d rather read John Cage than actually listen to his music. Like most people, the only song of his that I can sing in the shower is “4′33″ although I have a shelf full of his books, books about him and anthologies of his interviews.

I do have a slightly funny John Cage anecdote: Sometime in the mid-1980s, Cage, along with Winona Ryder and several other cultural notables, was photographed for an ad campaign for The GAP. These black and white ads were in magazines and on bus shelters in major cities. New York was just plastered with them at the time (Sadly I can’t find Cage’s ad on Google Images).

Part of the pay, apparently, was a rather large GAP gift certificate and on a day that I happened to be in a GAP store on Seventh Ave and 23rd Street—and had literally just passed his ad on the way into the store—John Cage decided that he was going to spend his. I heard him explaining this to the employees—that he had $1000 to spend—and could they please assist him spending it? They at least seemed to recognize Cage from his GAP ad, if not his actual achievements and the staff was happy to help out the cool old guy in the ad.

Cage didn’t stay long because he seemed to know exactly what he wanted. I recall that he walked out with a winter corduroy coat, a big stack of black “pocket tee” shirts, some denim shirts and some blue jeans. His style of shopping was extremely utilitarian. He left nothing to chance…

Below, the fascinating ‘American Masters’ documentary on John Cage, ‘I Have Nothing to Say and I Am Saying It’:
 

 
Below, a seldom-seen cable access program with Cage with his friend, writer Richard Kostelanetz. The pair discuss James Joyce and more:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Nicolas Cage does John Cage’s 4′33″
04.17.2012
07:59 am

Topics:
Amusing

Tags:
John Cage
Nicolas Cage
4′33″


 
I have nothing to say about this.
 

 

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Dreams Money Can Buy: Surrealist feature film from 1947

image
 
Dreams Money Can Buy is a 1947 film made by artist/author Hans Richter and collaborators like Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Ferdinand Leger, Man Ray, Alexander Calder, Paul Bowles, Max Ernst and others. There is a number by scandalous bisexual torch singer Libby Holman and popular African-American singer Josh White (who was later caught up in the “Red Scare” and black-listed) on the original soundtrack titled “The Girl with the Pre-Fabricated Heart” that plays during Leger’s segment.
 
Richter’s goal was to bring the avant-garde out of the museum and into the movie house and the results, predictably, are rather unique. Certainly Dreams Money Can Buy must have been a stunner at the time and it still is. The plot, such that there is one, revolves around a man who rents a room where he can peer into the mirror and see people’s dreams. He sets up shop and we meet his clients and see their surreal interior lives in the dream sequences. As you can imagine with the above list of collaborators, the film is a dizzying treat of audio-visual creation.
 
image
 
Marcel Duchamp’s contribution, “Discs,” is especially interesting. Here we see Duchamp’s famous Rotoreliefs in action, with a “prepared piano” soundtrack performed by John Cage. [I was once offered a box of glass and wood reproductions in miniature of Duchamp’s kinetic sculptures—at a good price, too—and like a fucking idiot I passed on it].
 

 
Below, Dreams Money Can Buy in its entirety on YouTube. If you want to watch with the original soundtrack, it’s here. The “modern” soundtrack, in the version embedded below, was recorded by The Real Tuesday Weld and is pretty faithful to the original music.
 

 
Thank you Vanessa Weinberg!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
When John Cage met Sun Ra
05.25.2011
11:27 am

Topics:
Heroes
History
Music

Tags:
Sun Ra
John Cage


 
Rarely heard live recording of a John Cage and Sun Ra performance from 1986. It was recorded at Sideshows by the Sea, the last surviving freak show along the Coney Island boardwalk. A carnival barker and a snake lady hawked the show outside and there was free pizza served, too. Can you imagine?!?! This concert took place on June 8th and pressed as a limited edition LP the following year.

Tyler Fisher writes on Sputnik Music:

Due to variety and musicality, Sun Ra heavily defeats John Cage on the performance. He opens the concert with a huge, furious, dissonant keyboard performance. The crowd cheers wildly and the spacey synthesizer sounds jump all around the range of the instrument and jump around in styles just as quickly. Elements of jazz flow in and suddenly a huge, orchestral sounding chord will overpower the recording instrument. The synth voices change frequently from a typical square lead voice to a bell sound to a synthesized voice. Sun Ra uses his range of voices perfectly, creating a heavy, metallic sound at some points which makes an even more frenzied sound to the already insane harmonic structure. He manages to jump from the most beautiful chords to the most dissonance in a matter of seconds. His first appearance goes on for 7 and a half minutes, garnering tumultuous applause from the audience. He later closes out the first half of the performance with a much more eastern tinged movement. Just when his playing couldn’t get any darker, he spends most of the second half making ambient, creepy noises. Much in the manner of the Mars Volta, he goes off without any sense of time or rhythm, creating whatever comes to mind. However, he lets the ambience slowly build into huge, crashing chords of either beauty or dissonance. Everything is going somewhere.

John Cage is just the opposite. His performance is much simpler. He merely steps up to a microphone and makes strange vocal noises. Cage’s voice sounds akin to an aging Johnny Cash. However, Cage never steps over saying more than 3 or 4 syllables at a time. He takes minute breaks before starting another few indistinguishable syllables. Of course, he relies on his “chance music” theory to get away with the minutes of silence. Sure, it’s a profound and intriguing idea, but it just gets old after a few minutes, especially when the recording buzzes in the background due to the quality. In truth, Cage is reciting excerpts from one of his poems in some strange language, known as Empty Words IV. However, who knows what he is saying? Luckily, Sun Ra saves the performance on the second half by filling in where Cage leaves silence. He fills with light, dainty keyboard lines way up high on the keys. He lets Cage have the show, not doing much of anything, but neither Cage still does less than Sun Ra. Cage proves a better composer and philosopher than a performer. Regardless, the crowd eats everything up, probably being mostly young, profound college kids themselves.

You can download John Cage meets Sun Ra at Adventure-Equation.

Read the back of the album cover, here.
 

 
Via WFMU’s Beware of the Blog

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Electronic music pioneer Milton Babbitt (1916-2011)

image
 
Composer Milton Babbitt died yesterday at the ripe old age of 94. I have always adored his piece Ensembles For Synthesizer, composed from 1962-64 on the guargantuan RCA Mark II synthesizer for which he was an official composer/consultant. I include that piece here from the 1967 album New Electronic Music from Leaders of the Avant-Garde which is a toweringly great slab of classic experimental music. Seek it out !
 

Part One
 

Part Two
 
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And because it’s so totally great, here is the John Cage piece from the same LP: Variations 2 as performed with brutal precision on amplified piano by the great David Tudor.
 

Part One
 

Part Two
 

Part Three

Posted by Brad Laner | Leave a comment
Destroy the music machine: ‘Remixing’ John Cage’s classic 4’33” on the way to a UK Xmas #1

image
 

  Cage Against the Machine..‘4.33’ Mr. Scruff Remix! by Mr Scruff

Three silent cheers for Dave and Julie Hilliard! They’re the couple behind Cage Against the Machine, the grassroots Facebook effort to bring a new recording of composer John Cage’s famous “silent” piece 4’33” to #1 in the UK charts this Christmas over whichever bullshit song wins the UK TV pop contest X Factor this year.

The Hilliards named CATM in hat-tip to last year’s successful Facebook campaign to boost Rage Against the Machine’s raw 1992 tune “Killing in the Name” into the Christmas #1 over whatever crappy tune won the ’09 X Factor. This year, indie-ish artists like Imogen Heap, Fyfe Dangerfield, Scroobius Pip, The Kooks and Heaven 17 popped into the studio to not play their instruments, and the single will be released by the Wall of Sound label. And instead of one single charity, the proceeds from sales of the new 4’33” benefits FOUR. Factor that in, Simon Cowell, you tit-head.

The race to #1 starts December 13. Here’s where you can sign up for a reminder and chart-eligible link to download the single.

Here’s an added plus: the wonderful conceptual flexibility behind 4’33” has allowed CATM to solicit remixes from both some innovative producers and you:

So go to it, give us a four minute thirty three second audio snapshot of your life. Record it on your phone, your Mac, PC, recorder, dictaphone, walkperson, whatever and share it here.

Check some out…
 

Latest tracks by RemixAgainstTheMachine

 

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
John Cage chats with John Lennon & Yoko Ono (1972)
11.18.2010
10:30 am

Topics:
Art
Heroes
Music
Thinkers

Tags:
Yoko Ono
John Lennon
John Cage

 
This is nothing too profound, in fact it’s rather goofy and quite amusing to see how giddy the two Johns are around each other, but I’ve never seen this before and have no idea as to its provenance. Anybody?

 

Posted by Brad Laner | Leave a comment
Good Morning Mr. Orwell: 1984 live TV experiment with Cage,Ginsberg,Dali,Paik,etc
11.17.2010
11:59 am

Topics:
Art
Heroes
Music
Television

Tags:
John Cage
Name June Paik

image
 
On new years day 1984 25 million people (myself included) throughout the world tuned in to PBS to watch video art pioneer Nam June Paik’s pleasantly shambolic live experiment Good Morning, Mr. Orwell featuring the likes of John Cage, Allen Ginsberg, Phillip Glass, Salvador Dali, Laurie Anderson and other usual suspects. All hosted by a bemused and mildy annoying George Plimpton. The full version of this was once up on the mighty Ubuweb but has mysteriously disappeared, so I bring you as many fragments of said program as I could find. Watching this in retrospect it comes off as perhaps the last 60’s style large scale “happening” featuring some of that era’s major hitters and is of course very quaint seeming “We’re linking New York to Paris on live TV !”, still very enjoyable to watch.
 
John Cage/Joseph Beuys

 
A ton more after the jump…

Posted by Brad Laner | Leave a comment
Joey Ramone sings John Cage
09.28.2010
09:11 am

Topics:
Art
Heroes
Music
Punk
Thinkers

Tags:
John Cage
Joey Ramone

image
 
Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. Here’s the late, great Joey Ramone doing a smashing job of singing the beautiful early John Cage piece The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs which is itself based on text by James Joyce. This comes from an Italian Cage tribute LP from the early 90’s that I was previously unaware of which also features a ton of other luminaries such as DM super-pal Ann Magnuson, David Byrne, Debbie Harry, John Zorn, etc.
 

 
Hear Robert Wyatt and Cathy Berberian’s versions of the same song after the jump…

Posted by Brad Laner | Leave a comment
John Cage: 4’33” (Vuvuzela cover version)
06.27.2010
09:42 pm

Topics:
Amusing
Music

Tags:
John Cage
Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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