New School News

The New Music: John Cage Centenary Concert

John Cage studied at The New School and served on its faculty from 1956 to 1961.

In celebration of the 100 birthday of American musical giant John Cage, Media Studies presents the John Cage Centenary Concert, free and open to the public on Friday, September 7 at 7:00 p.m. in Tishman Auditorium, 66 West 12th Street.

John Cage’s relationship with The New School stretches back to 1933 when Henry Cowell invited the young composter to study with Cowell and Adolph Weiss. From 1956 to 1961, Cage taught classes in experimental composition at The New School. He also taught on mycology—the study of fungi—and delivered a series of lectures on everything from music to mushrooms, from Buckminster Fuller to Marshall McLuhan. During that period Cage wrote several now well-known works including Variations 1 and Concerto for Piano and Orchestra and worked to develop his own system of musical graphic notation and was a founder of the New York Mycological Society.

According to Media Studies associate professor Barry Salmon, Cage is a presence in his department. “We turn to John Cage’s voice often in our Media Studies Program – especially but not only in our Sound Studies curriculum,” said Salmon who organized the Cage Centenary Concert with Media Studies’ professor Chris Mann. “Whether in production or theory courses, texts by Cage like Silence and A Year From Monday, challenge us into rethinking and remaking conceptions of ‘sound’ and ‘music’ – hearing Cage can allow us re-imagine for example language, sound and materiality- let alone music.”

“Given the cross-disciplinarity of our faculty backgrounds and the inclination of our Media Studies program since its founding it just makes sense,” Salmon continued “that music and media studies are deeply indebted one to the other. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the figure of John Cage, who was very much a part of the radical discussions of this ’new’ field of inquiry in the 1960’s. For us to bring this centenary concert of The New Music to the New School…is a ‘no brainer”,’ a pleasure, a privilege and an honor.”

The composer/musicians performing include:

  • Alvin Lucier is an American composer of experimental music and sound installations that explore acoustic phenomena and auditory perception. A long-time music professor at Wesleyan University, Lucier was a member of the influential Sonic Arts Union, which included Robert Ashley, David Behrman, and Gordon Mumma. Much of his work is influenced by science and explores the physical properties of sound itself: resonance of spaces, phase interference between closely tuned pitches, and the transmission of sound through physical media. Perhaps his two most well known works are I am Sitting in a Room and Music for Solo Performer.
  • Robert Ashley is a New York based contemporary American composer, best known for his operas and other theatrical works, many of which incorporate electronics and extended techniques. From 1966 to 1976 he toured throughout the United States and Europe with the Sonic Arts Union, the composers’ collective that included David Behrman, Alvin Lucier and Gordon Mumma. One of Ashley’s best-known works, Perfect Lives, an opera for television was commissioned by The Kitchen and produced in cooperation with Britain’s Channel Four and broadcast in 1984 and was performed in Austria, Spain, and the United States. The Improvement, a 90-minute oratorio-like piece, premiered in New York in 1991, and has been featured in festivals in Berlin and Paris.
  • David Behrman is an American composer and artist who has created made sound and multimedia installations for gallery spaces alongside his musical compositions for performance in concert venues. Most of his pieces feature flexible structures and the use of technology in personal ways; the compositions usually rely on interactive real-time relationships with imaginative performers. Behrman’s sound and multimedia installations have been exhibited at the Parochialkirche in Berlin, Stanford University’s LaSuen Gallery, the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and other spaces. Together with Robert Ashley, Alvin Lucier and Gordon Mumma, Behrman was a founding member of the Sonic Arts Union.
  • Chris Mann is an Australian-American composer, poet and performer specializing in the emerging field of compositional linguistics, coined by Kenneth Gaburo and described by Mann as “the mechanism whereby you understand what I’m thinking better than I do.” Mann’s work is mainly to do with the technology and philosophy of speech. Commissions have included Astra Choir, John Cage, Composers Forum, Paris Autumn Festival, Australian Biennale, Radio France, Ars Electronica, Radio Telefis Eirann, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, National Public Radio, Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, among others. Mann moved to New York in the 1980s and was an associate of American composers John Cage and Kenneth Gaburo. Mann currently teaches in the Media Studies Graduate program at The New School.

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