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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Many of John Cage's books are available at Woodland Pattern Book Center as part of the centennial.

Celebrate John Cage centenary with sound


Get to the East Side's Riverside Park for "Literary Musicircus," an event celebrating the centennial of American composer and philosopher John Cage's birth.

The event is a variation of Cage's "Musicircus," in which as many performers as can be lined up play whatever kind of music they want simultaneously; in this event, rather than instruments, volunteer readers will be spread across the park performing readings from one of Cage's 10 books.

The event runs from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 26. It is free to attend.

The audience wanders the park and enjoys as many as 50 disparate Cage readings being delivered within a three-hour time frame. Audience members are encouraged to get a map of the park with the locations of the readers at the Urban Ecology Center, 1500 E. Park Pl.

Volunteers can sign up for the event at the Urban Ecology Center through the day of the event. Readers are encouraged to bring one of their favorite Cage pieces to read; registrants can be provided with more information by contacting Thomas Gaudynski, who is organizing the event (see below).

"It's something fun to do on a Sunday before everyone goes back to school," says Gaudynski.

The Riverside Park Literary Musicircus is the first in a series of centenary events for Cage sponsored by Woodland Pattern Book Center, 720 E. Locust St. and made possible through a grant from the Milwaukee Arts Board.

Gaudynski likens the Literary Musicircus to "artistic anarchy" and looks forward to seeing everyone spread across the park, as well as celebrating Cage's life and career throughout the rest of 2012 and possibly into 2013. Most of the events take place at Woodland Pattern.

"We have seven dates for the centennial at Woodland Pattern and were lucky to get them. They are always open to experiment and innovation. And that was John Cage personified," says Gaudynski, who has been interested in Cage's life and in performing Cage since the '70s.

As a sound artist in his mid-20s, Gaudynski first performed Cage pieces at house parties and later in the 20th Century Studies program at UW-Milwaukee. He also conducted experimental vocal performances at Alverno College.

Later, Gaudynski was a member of Audio Trio, a group of improvisational performers in which he played guitar, violin and electronics. The trio played numerous concerts in and around Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago between 1997 and 2008.

Cage began composing in the '30s and became highly regarded for his Minimalist approaches in music, visual art and dance. He was also a philosopher who studied Zen with Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki (and was by many accounts also very knowledgeable about fungi).

Cage died of a stroke in New York City on Aug. 12, 1992.

At once somewhat a populist by declaring that there is "no noise, only sound" and at the same time thoroughly a member of the musical avant-garde, Cage's pieces stirred much debate in artistic circles.

Gaudynski admires Cage for his early interests in technology and electronic sounds (he wrote a piece of music using turntables as the source of sound in 1932), but even more so for his humanity.

"Cage is famously known for giving people permission to express themselves," says Gaudynski.

Cage's most famous composition, "4'33," is often referred to as his "silent work," because the performer (initially a pianist) performed three movements of the piece by opening the keyboard lid and sitting at the piano, playing no notes and not making any "intentional sounds."

The point of the piece was to appreciate the sounds in the recital hall made by the audience and, in its first iteration, the sounds of nature around the Maverick Concert Hall (essentially an open barn) in upstate New York.

After the Literary Musicircus, Cage appreciators and the uninitiated alike can attend a free screening of "4 American Composers: John Cage," a 1989 film by Peter Greenaway (who also made such films as "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover"). The show begins at 7 p.m. at Woodland Pattern on Wednesday, Sept. 19.

Next, head to the Florentine Opera Studio, 926 East Burleigh St., on Friday, Sept. 28 for a "prepared piano" concert. Cage placed objects in between the strings (from rubber bands to bits of wood) to alter the piano's sound.

The live performance begins at 7 p.m. and is $8 general admission, $7 for students and seniors and $6 for Woodland Pattern members. Performers include Renato Umali, Paul Gaudynski, Steve Nelson-Raney and Linda Binder.

A free screening at Woodland Pattern of the 1965 film "Variations VII" is Wednesday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. This will be followed by "19 Questions," a short film by Frank Scheffer and Andrew Culver in which Cage answers 19 questions on a variety of subjects.

"Electronic Music and Voice Concert: Music by John Cage" begins 2 p.m. at Woodland Pattern on Sunday, Oct. 28 ($8 general admission, $7 students and seniors and $6 Woodland Pattern members). Hear original Cage compositions performed by Hal Rammel, Thomas Gaudynski, Amanda Schoofs, Mark Mantel and Heather Warren-Crow.

The last Woodland Pattern event planned for Cage's centenary (so far) is Sunday, Dec. 9. A free screening of "Revenge of the Dead Indians," a 1993 film by Henning Lohner with music by Cage, begins at 2 p.m.


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