Eyes blind to shameful actions
See their friends rewarded
By their being unable to inspire allegiance.
In the following , I have made both John Cage and Pauline Oliveros into gods in the
"Variation IX: The Tempest
by John Cage
Student Union Building
December 12 8:00 pm"
Dr. Gonzalo read the poster. Of course he would go, although this would be only the second concert he would have attended that year. The first was a string quartet recital which included a Bach fugue on their program. He was interested in hearing a live performance of Bach after reading an interesting article by Hofstader. Gonzalo wanted to find out if he could get his attention around four separate parts while retaining a sense of the whole. It was much easier than he had expected. He felt some embarrassment in realizing that he was drawn to the Cage performance mostly because Cage was such a celebrity. Being an aging physics professor, Gonzalo knew very little about Cage's work except that sometime back he composed a piece, 4' 33", in which the pianist just sat at the piano and didn't play. At least it was short. He planned to go with some who were more experienced in these matters from the Music Department.
He hesitated to think of them as experts since music seems so much more subjective than science. He had attended one lecture in the Music Department that irritated him. It seemed so pretentious. The lecturer talked about musical form the way one would describe formulas in chemistry, concluding that the criteria he had established definitely separated the "truly great" composers from the "mediocre." What a waste of time. The lecture was like a dry drawn-out version of conversations he had overheard students having, arguing why Prince was better than Michael Jackson or vice versa. Gonzalo had worked at his terminal through dinner. At seven, he loaded his screen-saving display of various Julia sets and, after staring at them for a while, walked over to Anthony Williams' office to fetch him and his party to go to the concert. Williams had two of his composition students with him who were to accompany him to the concert.
"Greetings, old Gonzalo. I hope you don't mind my bringing a couple of students along. I think these innocents need to be exposed to charlatanism in our field; supposing that I can endure it for their sake."
Gonzalo knew that Williams always had a knack for putting down everybody. "So, you don't think much of Cage?" he said.
"He's a nice enough man, but he made his point years ago. He doesn't really compose. Throwing things together by chance is not what I call composition. Where's the skill?" Williams wrinkled his nose as if a bad odor had entered the room.
Gonzalo blushed a little. "Well . . . I'd like to go with an open mind."
"You'll see," said Williams. "There's just isn't much to it. Oh, by the way, we need to stop by the President's office. He and Sebastian Phillips, the Dean of Humanities, will be joining us. You've heard that all the fine arts are being lumped together with the Humanities Department, which is fine with me. I get along with Phillips quite well. This event will certainly help clarify to them both who is worth saving and who needs to be let go after the budget cutbacks. You know that my colleague, Ariel Duchamp has brought Cage and organized this performance?"
"Oh, yes. I haven't seen him around much," Gonzalo said, a little anxious to get going. "I know he's got a little girl he's raising by himself. Shouldn't we go now?"
"I suppose so, though there's no real hurry. These things run for hours."
The four of them walked half a block to the Administration Building which was next to the Student Union. President Alonso Flores had his son, Ferdinand, as well as Sebastian Phillips with him. The boy had been cultivated as a concert pianist since he was five years old. Now, at twenty years of age, he had perfect pitch and had won a number of piano contests. He spent his first two years at his father's university, but it seemed that he would have to move on to Julliard or Curtis in order to get the training he needed for the international competitions. It would be necessary to win such competitions if he was to make a career as a soloist. The shrinking music department had a decent piano teacher, but there were very few opportunities for ensemble playing.
If Ferdinand couldn't make it as a soloist, he would like to fall back on playing chamber music or even accompanying, which was the "bread and butter" of many of the young pianists he had met. He would regret leaving his present situation because there were many benefits that came from his being the son of the President of the university. He always had the attention he needed from the professors in the Music Department who were often brutal to their students. The piano teachers had the worst reputations for verbal abuse and some of Ferdinand's pianist friends had dropped out to study psychology or have nervous breakdowns.
"Ferdinand!" shouted Professor Williams a little too loudly. "I didn't expect you to be here. I'm sure your teacher wouldn't have recommended this performance to you. You had better watch him, Dr. Flores. He might announce that he'll not play a piano piece on his next recital."
"Ferdinand has a mind of his own, Williams. I see no harm in his broadening his horizons," said President Flores.
"I'm interested in hearing varieties of ensemble techniques," asserted Ferdinand.
"Well you won't learn much about that in this performance." Williams spoke rapidly.
"They will all be playing at the same time, but that's as far as it goes. It's all totally random."
Ferdinand looked Williams in the eyes and spoke with his inherited authority. "I dislike reading reviews before their performances, Sir." This quieted the composition professor and an uncomfortable silence fell across the room.
Gonzalo smiled at Ferdinand and said, patting him on the shoulder, "I think we had better get going. It's already 8:15."
The group of seven men entered the Student Union and followed the signs and the flow of the crowd to a closed courtyard which opened through three floors to a skylight ceiling. The skylight had been covered with white canvas on which light was projected in a checkerboard pattern juxtaposed against random interconnecting circles and two black dots which were centered in two different squares. The light was coming from a table that doubled as a projector with transparencies placed over the top. Two students with walkie-talkies stood by the table and periodically moved the black dots around. They were the only "performers" on the first floor. There were no chairs for the audience which continued its flow through chaotic sounds. Dr. Gonzalo recognized friends he hadn't seen in years. It seemed like everyone was there. Gonzalo thought to himself how there's nothing like a celebrity to bring people out of the woodwork.
Gonzalo's party had tried to stay together but, while they were visiting with friends and shouting over the noise, Ferdinand became part of the flow of audience that traveled up the stairs to the second floor. Musicians were seated along the balcony around the courtyard. They played a variety of instruments not usually seen in one ensemble. Each musician would look up every few seconds at the patterns projected on the ceiling. Ferdinand tried listening to each individual player as he floated around the courtyard. He wanted to get to the bright lights on the opposite side. The experience was something like walking by a freak show, each display blending into the next; one never seeming to have anything to do with the other. And they all did such strange things and mostly chose to play the oddest sounds their instruments could make. One clarinetist played the individual pieces of his clarinet. An accordion player just played one low note, a C natural, in one constant drone. A pianist was dropping chains on the strings of his piano. Some performers were not stationary but chose to dance while making strange vocal noises. Ferdinand did not get out of the flow of traffic until he had reached his destination, the bright lights.
At last, he was at the other side and saw that the lights were not caused by performers, but by television camera crews who were interviewing John Cage playing a game of chess with a woman whose name Ferdinand later found out was Pauline Oliveros. When Cage took breaks from the game, he would walk slowly with an angelic smile while lights and cameras followed him around. This made him look like some glorious demi-god. He walked to tell a trumpet player -- who Ferdinand recognized as Cal O'Bannion, the "screamer" in the school's stage band -- who was playing loud jazz licks, not to play "representational sounds" but to think of "sporadic clusters like stars." Cal looked pretty mad and walked away in a huff. Ferdinand had Cal in his theory class. He had always thought of him as a real jerk; a prima dona. When Ferdinand watched Cage walk back to his game, his eyes fell on a young woman cellist, whom he had never met, staring at him while she played. She smiled when she noticed he was looking back while she was playing very complex pointillistic fragments. Every note seemed to be a whole piece in and of itself. However, her face showed nothing but her admiration for Ferdinand. This made him feel embarrassed, but her playing made him feel more comfortable as he lost himself in the fine details of her phrasing and vibrato. In time, he thought he could hear the overtones of each delicate note, extending infinitely upwards beyond the range of human ears. And, there were matrices of nuances housed in every overtone. The girl's beauty and depth of her soul was expressed in her playing. He thought how he would love to play the Schumann Fantasy Piece with her and how that would be like making love to her. Right now, she wasn't playing Cage or any other composer. This playing was her own soul, alone without the intervention of a composer, dead or otherwise. After this, playing Schumann would be like sharing their lovers' bed with a corpse. John Cage noticed Ferdinand's infatuation and gave him a welcoming smile and then resumed his chess game.
Cal O'Bannion went down to the basement of the Student Union where there was a disco club that served beer. He had the build of a football player but had an unusually squeaky high voice that irritated people. The music teachers tolerated him because he played technically well and could play higher than any other trumpet player in the school. He decided, after several beers and talking to the bartender and a drunk who sat beside him, that he would blow off this artistic crap and go where the money was, muzak. He loved to think of all the free drugs and sex he would have working in the recording industry. Even Cage's stuck-up cellist, Miranda, would want him when he's rich. This revelation made him so happy and excited that he and the drunk danced to the disco music together in the empty bar while Cage's happening thundered above.
Gonzalo went with his group, slowly covering the entire performance space. They chose to go on to the third floor, trying to avoid the crowd. Gonzalo was getting pretty tired of the on-going commentary coming from his music "expert," Williams, and he started tuning him out. He was amazed how easily he could make William's voice become the background while bringing other sounds from the environment into the foreground. People talked to each other freely and without regard for the fact that a performance was going on. The roar of the voices was almost as loud as the performance and, in most cases, everyone seemed happy to be there and reunited with one another. Gonzalo was surprised that the noise was not irritating to him. He had always hated noisy restaurants with those clattering dishes. What was different about this? Gonzalo hated noise, but he loved puzzles. This piece was becoming more and more like a puzzle to him.
When they reached the third floor, they found musicians surrounding the courtyard, staring at the ceiling as if it was a musical score. Williams pointed out to Dean Phillips the absurdity of the choreography of the players' movements. He preached on and on about the senselessness and lack of control to everyone within hearing range including Duchamp who was performing with the students on the third floor. Duchamp stayed motionless, eyes fixed on the ceiling.
Sebastian Phillips couldn't resist saying, "Oh yes, I know that piece. Mr. Duchamp is playing quite well. I see now. This is a medley of all of Mr. Cage's work." He laughed loudly causing even President Flores to let out a nervous snicker.
"I wonder where my son is?" he said.
Phillips brought his laugh down to a sarcastic giggle. "I'd fear the worst," he snorted. To Gonzalo, both Williams and Phillips were the type of men who built themselves up by tearing others down. He was glad to be rid of them for the moment as they lagged behind in the flow of the crowd.
Williams scanned the room with his hands in his pockets. "Sebastian," he said. "I'm glad that they can't hear us right now. I have something to discuss with you. There's a rumor going around that you are the heir apparent to the President, should he leave for some reason."
"A rumor started by you, no doubt." Phillips maintained his sarcastic grin. "But, it's no use. Flores isn't going anywhere."
"Things happen," Williams said with a wink.
"My God, have you joined the Mafia?" Phillips started another one of his showy laughs but was stopped short.
"Don't say anything more. I'll forget this conversation ever took place," Phillips said with a rare serious expression which transformed itself into a warm smile. "However, should my job come available due to some unforeseen promotion, I know a certain person on the music faculty who has the sort of administrative abilities necessary to be the next Dean of Arts and Humanities."
The two of them pushed through the crowd in order to catch up with the others who were about to go down to the second floor. Just then, Gonzalo noticed that one of the black dots moved into the densest part of the largest cluster of circles. Practically all of the musicians burst into action. Suddenly, Duchamp was lighted in a way that gave him a ghostly affect, speaking in an amplified voice that was altered by electronics. His voice would cascade downwards in pitch in one second intervals, after every syllable:
"You are three men of sin, whom Destiny,
That hath to instrument this lower world
And what is in't, the never-surfeited sea
Hath caus'd to belch up you; you 'mongst men
Being most unfit to live. I have made you mad;
And even with such-like valour, men hang and drown
Their proper selves."
Williams tried to get in another derogatory remark about Duchamp.
"You fools! I and my fellows
Are ministers of fate. The elements,
Of whom your swords are temper'd, may as well
Wound the loud winds, or bemock'd-at stabs
Kill the still-crossing waters, as diminish
One dowle that's in my plume. My fellow ministers
Are like invulnerable. If you could hurt,
Your swords are now too massy for your strengths
And will not be uplifted. But remember -
For that's my business to you - that you three
From Milan did supplant good Prospero;
Expos'd to the sea, which hath requit it,
Him and his innocent child; for which foul deed
The powers, delaying, not forgetting, have
Incens'd the seas and shores, yea, all creatures,
Against your peace. Thee of thy son, Alonso,
They have bereft; and do pronounce by me
Ling'ring perdition, worse than any death
Can be at once, shall step by step attend
You and your ways; whose wraths to guard you from -
Which here, in this most desolate isle, else falls
Upon your heads - is nothing but heart's sorrow
And a clear life ensuing."
The black spot moved again and the cacophony grew a little quieter. "Has anyone seen Ferdinand?" asked President Alonso Flores looking a little worried. This speech caused him to think about the lives that would be affected by this latest budget cut. He would have to make some difficult decisions.
Gonzalo got ahead of the party as they moved down the stairs to the second floor. He immediately spotted Cage who was the only person in the room older than himself. He was playing chess with a very powerful looking woman while two students hovered over them with walkie-talkies. Gonzalo immediately had a theory and rushed to the chess board to confirm it. Yes, he had guessed it. The black dots corresponded to the movements of each player's king. "How ingenious!" he thought to himself. Cage looked up and noticed Gonzalo's white beard and stood up to introduce himself.
"John Cage," Cage said shaking Gonzalo's hand.
"Paul Gonzalo," the physics professor said with nervous excitement.
Cage added, "And this is my colleague, Pauline Oliveros."
They exchanged polite greetings.
Gonzalo wanted a definite confirmation of his theory. "I was amazed to discover that you are controlling this piece by the movements of your chess pieces."
"Well, yes, but I'm playing to win the game and the piece follows where the kings happen to be," said Cage.
This was almost as interesting to Gonzalo as a new equation appearing in a physics journal. "I'm not sure if I've figured out how the circles work yet. There are no circles which do not intersect and the density of the activity seems to be related to the density of the circles where the dots happen to be."
"Marvelous! You've got it." John Cage gave out a big smile, making Gonzalo feel a bit patronized, but he found Cage to be genuinely gentle and nurturing.
Pauline Oliveros looked up again from the chess board. "Did you see the opening ritual?" she asked.
"No, I came too late," Gonzalo said blushing.
"We cut transparencies of circles and dropped them on the projector. Then, we removed all the circles that did not intersect another circle," she continued.
"The players are free to interpret the shapes for themselves by performing any actions that seem appropriate," said Cage.
Oliveros asked Gonzalo, "What is you area of study?"
"Oh, I'm a physicist. This is all very new to me, but I think it's fascinating . . . fascinating."
They exchanged cards and, and while Pauline Oliveros was telling Gonzalo about her networking project for artists and scientists, Williams walked up leading his entourage. Before he could say a word Cage said "checkmate," the message was sent on the walkie-talkies, the black dots disappeared, and silenced reigned. Even the audience got quiet when the musicians stopped playing.
Cage looked around and said, "Shall we go to the lecture hall?" The President of the university and the Dean of Humanities introduced themselves to Cage on the way. President Flores admitted that he had some trouble adapting to this "strange environment." He mentioned his musician son who had mysteriously disappeared.
"I too have lost someone," mentioned Cage, feigning concern. "My cellist, who came with me from New York, has been missing since a young man . . . "
Just then, they all heard the music of a cello and a piano pouring out of the lecture hall. This was like no music they had ever heard before but seemed to contain elements of the whole repertoire shared by the two instruments. The players talked, and teased each other while they played.
Miranda said, "Sweet lord, you play me false."
"No, my dearest love, I would not for the world," cooed Ferdinand.
"Fair enough. I can keep up." Miranda lunged into her cello and played with a virtuosity that seemed beyond human limits.
Ferdinand's father was so moved by his son's playing. He was composing while playing. He had never composed before. There was a life and freshness to this music that made Anthony Williams' compositions pale in comparison. Yet, Ferdinand had never composed.
"Is this just randomness, Anthony?" he said to Williams, giving him a hard look.
Williams felt a little cornered. "Your son is very talented, Sir . . . but technically . . . this is not composing. This is improvising."
Gonzalo said beaming, "Nothing about this whole evening has been random. This is chaos."
Just then, President Flores got a clear vision of how the Arts and Humanities could be restructured so that it might be a place for discovery and research, capitalizing on the effects of combining experiences from creating arts in a variety of media, rather than a mediocre conservatory program, as Williams would have it, crippled by repeated budget cuts. His son might even be coaxed into staying, especially if Miranda was put on the faculty. She has already proven herself as a fine teacher. Ariel Duchamp would make the perfect Dean for a progressive School of Arts and Humanities.
As Cage approached the podium, the audience could hear some drunks outside in the lobby. Someone was playing Moon River on a trumpet, Bill Chase-style, about two octaves too high. Three men burst into the lecture hall, froze in astonishment, and then, as if on cue, ran for the same door, scrambling to get out like they had been choreographed by the three stooges. The audience started laughing softly while fidgeting in their seats. Then Cage said, "And you think someone could plan these sorts of things?" The tension broke and the audience laughed without restraint. Cage stood, bent over with old age grinning his broadest grin. When the laughter had come down to pointillistic chuckles, he added, "Such stuff dreams are made on." With this, the audience laughed loudly and long enough to discharge all the tension they had brought to that space. Then Cage began to read:
"And indulgence relieved faults, as
Pardoned from prayer, have now
Deceived hands. I, gentle, frees
Breath; fails mercy in have's.
"Despair the o'erthrown itself, but
Dwell with Naples.
Enchant here or release all
This. Since pardoned are
"True, unless, bare all that spirits
Or island free, sent project own.
Confined your good which by
Sails be ending not fill.
"You enforce my help which I . . . be
Dukedom most. T'is I. Pierces
From art. Faint bands
Must want set.
"Strength and my please would
My so which your me must
Charms my else to the
Assaults to now.
"Is my now yours of me
Of you and is it me?
I be what your
And to my.
"To spell, let my.
To let, got I.
"As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
With the help of your good hands,
And what strength I have's my own;
Spirits to enhance, art to enchant.
Now my charms are all o'erthrown
In this bare island by your spell
Since I have my dukedom got
Unless I be relieved by power
And my ending in despair
And pardon'd the deceiver dwell,
Which was to please. Now I want . . .
I must be here confin'd by you,
Must fill or else my project fails.
But release me from my bands.
Let your indulgence set me free,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Which is most faint. Now, t'is true
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Gentle breath of yours my sails,
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
"Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's my own,
Which is most faint. Now, t'is true,
I must be here confin'd by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardon'd the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be reliev'd by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free."
Pauline Oliveros and John Cage act as almost unwitting wizards of chaos which causes confusion which then resolves towards a favorable outcome for the professor who hired them. The poem at the end was made by taking the original epilogue from The Tempest making new verses from a random drawing of each word. The poem was then recreated by randomly drawing intact original verses, and then, the last recitation of the poem is Shakespeare's original. Each form of the poem brings out different meanings and each repetition of the poem becomes clearer and less confusing as it resolves into Shakespeare's simple farewell put in John Cage's voice. Cage, Shakespeare, and Prospero are all the same metaphorically.