As part of the Barbican Centre's year-long "Inventing America" season, the subject under scrutiny today is perhaps the most radical, inventive, influential and "wacky" pioneer of them all, John Cage (above). The day should be an exciting celebration of both the man and his work. Born in 1912 in Los Angeles, Cage is the man who, perhaps more than anyone else, continued the example of the arch American pioneer Charles Ives to produce a highly innovative, maverick and iconoclastic body of work.
In the process, Cage also attracted many followers, but few genuine imitators. To some, he became a pedagogical guru; to others, his work is totally incomprehensible. But Cage was always his own man: chance operations, invented and electronic sounds, silence, aleatoricism, indeterminancy, simultaneous musics, scores consisting of just words, and deep and lasting inspirations as diverse as Zen mysticism and Joyce's Finnegans Wake, characterise his questing and modern Renaissance lifestyle. On top of that, his collaborators embraced those in fields other than music - in the visual arts, in film and, via a lifelong working relationship with choreographer Merce Cunningham - dance.
Many of these aspects come together in Cage Day, some appropriately occurring simultaneously. The Barbican is the ideal venue for two free airings of Musicircus, at 3pm and 6.30pm, an "environmental extravaganza" conceived by Cage for labyrinthine foyers. Directed by Stephen Montague, no fewer than 20 different groups will be performing Cage's music, alongside trapeze artists and fanfare trumpeters.
At 8pm, in the official evening concert, The Brood, a unique gathering of musicians from the worlds of rock, electronics and improvisation come together for Fontana Mix and Ryoangi. The evening also features world premieres for two specially commissioned dance pieces, one to the accompaniment of extracts from Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano. This work ideally sums up Cage's enduring and ever-inventive spirit. In 1938, the black dancer Syvilla Fort asked him for some music. Cage was then mainly interested in percussion, but the performing space had no room for anything but a grand piano - so Cage converted the piano into a percussion instrument by inserting screws and other objects between the strings. Having invented his "new" instrument, Cage persevered and wrote his masterpiece between 1946 and 1948.
Musicircus, 3pm & 6.30pm; Cage Forum, 5.30pm; concert 8pm, Barbican Centre, London EC2 (0171-638 8891)Reuse content