John Cage, the most generous soul I've met in my entire life, agreed to come to Miami in April, of 1991 for what he called "a short visit" of three and a half days. I said I was curating a concert of his music to fit a group made up of five great musician friends: pianist Anthony de Mare, bassist Robert Black, oboist Joseph Celli, percussionist Jan Williams, and Miami based flutist Lisa LaCross. At the suggetion of Robert Black, the concert included the first performance of 'Composed Improvisation' in its duet form for snare drum and Steinberger bass guitar- a version of which was later released on O.O. Discs.
Here is a quote of a loose transcript from a Fishtank Radio interview I conducted with John while he was sipping on a cup of tea. [...] indicates noises and pauses of different lengths:
"Shall I just talk? ...Well...this has been a very...pleasant time to come here to Miami...The concert last night was extraordinary...The musicians were all so fine and...I didn't know the flutist before...lives here...The...duet of the improvisation...with the...snare drum and the...and the Steinberger guitar was just...just great...Both of those musicians (Robert Black and Jan Williams)...they're so...attentive to their instruments and to the...their possibilities...It was marvelous to hear a snare drum...played...in such a...free ranging...way...I forget how I make something until I study it...but...it seems to me it was a division of time...and then...statements about how many sounds and...the notion of a...of a...a special sound present in each one of the improvisations...for the...snare drum it was the...rim shot...putting a stick on the edge of the drum and...striking, not the drum but the stick...I think it may have been something to do with...in the guitar...something that was characteristic of the Steinberger guitar...shifting the pitches...perhaps...I think that...it's interesting that...so many musicians enjoy...improvisation...but they...improvisation gives so much freedom...that...they...like to have...some restrictions...within which they can...improvise...For a great deal...of my life I...I had a chip on my shoulder...about improvisation but...I've taken it off in the last decade or so (laugh)..."
John was so pleased by the performances and the program that he proposed it to the Library of Congress for a concert in his honor to take place later that year.
A Brazilian chef was hired to prepare a macrobiotic dinner that included John's recipe for Pesto sauce and made so much food, we managed to feed him the four days. When I picked him up at the airport he was carrying only a briefcase. In it there was a tooth brush, a bag with herbal tea, a dried hops pillow and the hand written scores to 'Empty Words', 'One 3' and 'One 7'.
The track on the 'Breath' cd comes from John Cage's performance of 'Empty Words', which took place April 5, 1991 at the Wolfson Auditorium of Miami-Dade Community College. Over 300 people attended the performance. After only ten of the 90 minute performance, a reporter from the business paper stepped out of the hall and waited to take photos and interview those who were leaving the concert early. While consistent with his previous reviews of John's music, the local critic was getting ready to trash his performance with phrases like "he must be pulling our leg". Perhaps this is why John suggested I cultivate a bad memory (advice which I took seriously and have benefited from ever since). -Gustavo Matamoros
< < back to 'subtropics vol. 1: breath' main page