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Leslie Kandell's Tanglewood notes
by Leslie Kandell

Tanglewood notes

A Daily Gazette arts blog
Leslie Kandell covers music in the Berkshires

Did John Cage Bang on a Can?

The annual Bang on a Can new music festival at MASSMoCA -- daily talks, composer workshops and recitals with premieres -- comes to a close Saturday, with a six-hour marathon finale from 4 to 10 p.m.

Thursday's percussion concert, one of several in the building's galleries, reached way back to honor John Cage (pictured), in this centennial year of his birth.

Yet no way has the festival deserted its commitment to new music: a phone call to get the program netted a reply that "John Cage is not performing today; he already performed July 14."

I was about to holler that Cage was long gone when I was illuminated by the deep significance of the mistake: John Cage lives!

Yes! His guileless quest to show us sounds around us, to see that there is no such thing as silence, that life's flotsam and jetsam can be forms of music -- that remains with us, and his compositions are not only still alive, but still far out, beckoning us to hear in more open ways.

Thoughts while listening to four Cage percussion pieces from 1940 to 1985: his most talked-about piece is the infamous 4'33," in which a pianist sits quietly at a closed keyboard. In the interminable-seeming silence, listeners are invited to contemplate ambient noise from the room and beyond. It's still a tour-de-force: find versions on You Tube.

More thoughts: in Thursday's pieces, Cage used instruments in novel ways: objects are placed on piano strings, and phonograph cartridges are played with violin bows. He was a mixed-media pioneer. In "But What About the Noise of Crumpling Paper..." paper was crumpled by several people sitting around the large gallery, who had several items to, well, play with, and coordinated their entrances (fairly well) through smartphones. No performances are the same -- this isn't Beethoven, whom, predictably, Cage didn't like.

So check the John Cage website: centenary events disappear after they happen, and the number of events varies from day to day: today 86, one day in February, 110. Wonder how many will take place on Sept. 5, his birth date. Hope the total is posted at the end of the year.

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