John Cage

Empty Words

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In some ways, this recording of John Cage's Empty Words (Parte III) is more a fascinating you-are-there curio than something one would listen to for pleasure, but in a larger sense, it's merely the basic concept of Cage's 4' 33'' (in which the audience reaction is an inextricable part of the piece) taken to a logical conclusion. Cage's part of the performance (which lasted nearly three hours) consisted of the composer sitting at a lectern reading a brief passage from the journals of Henry David Thoreau; in keeping with the piece's title, Cage draws out every syllable, silence, and vocal inflection, to the point that the words are utterly meaningless and become pure vocal sound. In a way, it's similar to a live, non-electronic, one-man version of Alvin Lucier's I Am Sitting In A Room, which also plays with text and the dissolution of meaning. But what's most interesting about this particular performance is the reaction of the audience of Italian art students. By the middle of the second disc, the increasingly agitated and antagonistic audience is starting to drown Cage out (one must wonder what they'd been expecting ? a stand-up comedian, perhaps?), and by the end, it has turned into a small scale but very real riot. This reissue comes with a 32-page booklet featuring drawings by Cage and photographs of the reading and subsequent reaction.

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