John Cage Festival | Best thing I did this week

William Jason Raynovich plays John Cage's 59 1/2".

William Jason Raynovich plays John Cage's 59 1/2". Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

On Friday, I arrived late to a preview for the forthcoming John Cage Festival. No biggie. Folks still milled around 6018 North—former MCA curator Tricia Van Eck's newish art space—nibbling at a buffet of mushrooms (Cage prided himself on his devotion to mycology) and sipping Cage-inspired cocktails.


The preview was to feature two Cage pieces, part of a forthcoming weekend curated by Chicago composer Nomi Epstein celebrating the avant-garde composer's centennial.


After a lengthy introduction about Cage (illuminating bits by Epstein and occasional overkill theorizing from artists), cellist William Jason Raynovich played a lovely piece called "59 1/2." The work was exactly that—59.5 seconds of music. (You gotta love how Cage doesn't waste time or words.)


The second preview featured a contemporary version of Cage's high-tech Variations V. To create the initial installation, Cage collaborated with modernist giants—choreographer Merce Cunningham, film artist Nam June Paik, electronic guru Robert Moog and several others.


This stunning adaption of Variations V, helmed by sound artist Julia Miller, corralled a solid group of Chicago artists. Dancer Enid Smith—a pixie who performed under Cunningham before his death in 2009—moved around 6018 North's stripped-down space with abrupt movements, carefully tripping amped plants, walls and floorboards. Artist James Connelly sat at a computer and, in real time, adapted videos shown on televisions while light patterns from Tatsu Aoki's films flickered across the walls. Sound artist Alex Inglizian mixed noise made by Smith's movements, which was projected by horn speakers, hand-crafted by Specimen Products.


Seemingly in a flash, the 20-or-so minute version ended (again, you gotta love that powerful, pay-attention-or-else Cagian notion of time). But the brief moments of brilliance lingered in my mind all weekend.


See Variations V on Apr 14 at Collaboraction theater, room 300 (1579 N Milwaukee Ave) at 7pm and 9pm. For more information on John Cage Festival, go to aperiodicchicago.com.


 



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