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Arts & Culture

Avalon Gallery hosts a celebration of the late John Cage

‘Silence 101’ marks the 101st birthday of the composer who won’t go silently

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SILENCE 101

4:33 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5 | Gallery at Avalon Island, 39 S. Magnolia Ave. | accidentalmusicfestival.com | free

Composer John Cage was a bundle of contradictions. He wrote piano sonatas for the strings, not just the keys; he composed music for “instruments” like brake drums, houseplants and staticky radios; rather than telling musicians what notes to play, his scores sometimes directed them to play games – and the incidental sounds that emerged from those games created an unpredictable music, different every time. His most famous composition, 4’33”, consists of four minutes and 33 seconds of silence. For his playful rule-breaking, Cage is revered not just by musicians, but by artists of all practices as one of the towering innovators of the 20th century.

Orlando arts instigator Pat Greene has a deep admiration for Cage, who “questions the assumptions and possibilities of art,” says Greene. “I’ve talked to plenty of purist composer types who say Cage is a charlatan or a hack. It seems like the real problem is a lot of these people have tried to quantify him as a composer. I think of him more as a philosopher or a conceptual artist.”

Greene’s Corridor Project – he calls it “a contemporary art museum with no fixed location”; it might also be described as an ongoing series of public art experiments – co-presents a celebration of what would have been Cage’s 101st birthday Thursday. Along with several other Orlando stalwarts of avant-garde art and music – Voci Dance Ensemble, who have choreographed a dance to 4’33”; the UCF Collide Ensemble; the Accidental Music Festival; artist Rick Jones, and musician Jim Ivy – the Gallery at Avalon Island welcomes the public to join in or just observe.

Thad Anderson, a UCF percussion professor and curator of the Collide Contemporary Music Series, will lead an hour’s worth of short Cage pieces, including Radio Music (which is performed using 56 frequencies on eight AM radios) and Child of Tree (a solo percussion piece using amplified houseplants as “instruments”). For Forever and Sunsmell (percussion and voice, based on texts by e.e. cummings), Anderson recruited vocalist Sarah Purser Bojorquez to collaborate. “I have never performed a Cage piece before, so I’m really looking forward to it,” she says. “One of the challenges in that piece for me is that the percussion instruments are not melodic, so it’s a challenge for the singer to find the correct pitches and stay in the correct key. … It’s definitely a different challenge than singing classical.”

Rick Jones, known mostly as a painter, will perform Cage’s Lecture on Nothing, a challenging 40-minute piece for voice and metronome. “I had rehearsed it for one of Brian Feldman’s things a few years ago but couldn’t do it that time, so I jumped at the chance to finally do something I’ve wanted to do since about 1996 or so,” Jones says. Jim Ivy will lead a performance of his Milton Bradley, a “family fun” chance operation piece based on board games.

If the idea of dancers dancing to silence or percussionists playing houseplants makes you giggle, don’t feel bad about it. A sense of humor is essential, and indeed intentional, to Cage’s lifework. Cage once appeared on an episode of I’ve Got a Secret, the 1960s game show; when he told the host his piece would be performed on blender, goose call, rubber duck, mechanical fish, seltzer siphon, bathtub and piano, the host warned him that the audience would laugh. Cage’s response: “Laughter is better than tears.”

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