“John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing,” (re)performed by Michael Hunter and Derek Phillips

Thursday, 27 June 13
10:00 pm
Roble Studio 52

Blog Response by Rebecca Chaleff

Photo by Jamie Lyons9209879003_9e75a04662_o

In the center of Roble Studio 52 are four stools.  One of these stools is for sitting, and the other three support the few lamps that provide the only lighting sources in the room (this smart and minimal set design, it should be noted, was advised by Angrette McClosky).  Perched atop the central and tallest stool is Michael Hunter, calmly reading John Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing.”  His face, lit by the surrounding lamps, is illuminated as though he were reading a ghost story.  We, the audience, are gathered around this campfire setting on an inconsistent array of floor mats, couches, and chairs, all curving around the central figure.

Hunter (via Cage) teases his audience with promises of direction and purpose while clearly working against the notion of a lecture all together.  He expands and collapses ideas of structure and material, playing with repetition, narrative, and lack of narrative.  He does all this with great pleasure.  He tells us where we, also, might find pleasure.  And then he tests the patience of his late-night listeners, encouraging us to discover pleasure in place of impatience, particularly in the latter half of the fourth large unit, which stretches on and on in an elaborate loop of wordplay and repetition.

The predominate theme of the conference—now then, then and now, etc.—is present most strongly in this same section, through the consistent questioning of where we are now.  “We are nowhere,” Cage insists.  Then, later, “nowhere is where we are.”  Hunter’s eyes dart, delightedly, around the audience.  His delivery is perfectly playful.

“If the listener is sleepy, let him sleep,” he coaxes us in a matter of fact and almost-whispered tone that sounds hauntingly like Cage himself.  But even while lulling us to sleep, he manages to build suspense in the paradoxical way that only avant-garde minimalism can.  Of course, in Cage’s typical refusal of titular association, the umbrella of the avant-garde is eventually eschewed.

Derek Phillips’s soundscape is as eerie and playful as Hunter’s performance of the text.  In the fashion of Cage’s work creating sounds from found objects, Phillips rubs a stone across one microphone, then crumples leaves in front of another.  These sounds—the sounds that Cage continually proclaims he loves so much—fill the room with a sense of aural homage.  They loop and thread themselves within and between the text, becoming, simultaneously, nothing other than themselves and something very much beyond themselves.

In the end, the audience is left with the responsibility of continuing Cage’s meditation on themes of nothingness and nowhereness.  Leaving the space, we carry with us not only the sounds of the lecture, but the feel of the room: the tone of the performance, quietly sustained and slightly spooky.  This ambiance seems appropriate: through the reperformance of Cage’s lecture, ghosts are, indeed, being conjured—from nowhere into nowhere, or, in other words, where we are.

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