State University of New York at Buffalo. Music Library

June in Buffalo, June 5, 1975 Lecture by John Cage: from the collection, Recordings of June in Buffalo, 1975-1978, 1980



John Cage Lecture at June in Buffalo June 5 1975: Transcription with annotations

Access to this transcription and the accompanying audio file is generously made possible courtesy of the John Cage Trust.

PDF version of the transcription.

This transcription originated with a version created by Steven Schlegel for his University at Buffalo Master’s Thesis, John Cage at June in Buffalo, 1975. The full text of the thesis is available online through the link provided in the catalog record.

The transcription was further revised and annotated by John Bewley and Adam Overton in 2012 and received a final edit by Laura Kuhn in October 2015.

The lecture took place at the first June in Buffalo festival at the State University of New York at Buffalo. It occurred the day after the S.E.M. Ensemble performed Cage’s Song Books to close the second concert of the festival. The lecture was originally recorded on reel to reel tape. The tape was digitally reformatted with the resulting files placed onto compact discs.

The finding aid for the entire collection of Recordings of June in Buffalo, 1975-1978, 1980 is available online.



0:01     Cage:  I’d like to bring up the question for which there is probably no solution -- the question being of writing something and then it being performed, and the question is whether the performance is acceptable to other people or whether something else has happened.

0:50     I recall that when I still lived in the building where Morton Feldman also lived at Grand St. and Monroe[1] that the phone rang.  And it was a pianist who had gone to South America. . I’m going to speak about the problem of composing and performing momentarily in relation to the performers themselves.

[Petr Kotik?]: Good good.

1:21     The phone rang and it was this piano student who had made a tour in South America. And on this program he included my suite for prepared piano called the Perilous Night, and this is the first time I’d heard from him. He had already performed the piece in many places, and he wanted me, finally, he wanted me to hear it, to see what I thought of it. And, due to the nature of the prepared piano and everything, it proved to be more convenient for me to come to him than for him to come to me.

What is it? [directed toward someone in the room]

2:10     Unknown Speaker 1:  […?…] if I sit in that corner there, sir?

2:20     Cage: Why don’t you come and see, I don’t know.

So, I went to his house and he had prepared the piano, I thought very badly.  And then when he played the music for me, I thought he did wretchedly. And, I didn’t tell him so.  I simply, I blamed myself for having written something that had become so hideous.

3:00     Unknown Speaker 2: When was this? 

Cage: I wrote the Perilous Night in '43 or '44, I forget now.  And the second dance I’m telling you about took place say in the late 40’s or early 50’s because I lived at Monroe St. from, oh, roughly '47 to '53.  It was sometime during that period.

3:30     Anyway, I have gone all through these years from '42 on frequently touring the country with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. And we came to a town in North Carolina, a school, and a young pianist, when he saw me, [he] was delighted. And he said, “I have so looked forward to meeting you,” and I said, “Why?”  He said, “I’ve played the Perilous Night.” And I said... I tried to get out of reach of him then. [AUDIENCE LAUGHS] I didn’t want to hear another word about the Perilous Night. And he said, “It won’t take any of your time.  Why don’t you come and hear me play it? I have the piano, right now, already prepared. It’s just downstairs, in the basement.” I said, “No, it’s impossible.” I said, “I’m very busy, with the rehearsals.  You can see that.  I didn’t come here as a composer, I came with a dance company. My first priority is to be always in attendance," so on and so forth. “Leave!”... [And] he insisted. We were there several days. He absolutely insisted.  And finally I couldn’t get out of it, so I went down. He had prepared the piano beautifully and he played the piece magnificently.

5:10     Now, last night, when the S.E.M. Ensemble performed the Song Books, I regretted that I had composed it.  I regret … that I have, that my work exists now as something so widely misunderstood.  I said at the beginning of these remarks that there is no solution to this problem.  And I don’t really think that there is, because, if we could somehow get everything to be magnificent and good in terms of our intentions and whatnot, we would, wouldn’t we, have to exert pressure. And I, as you know, don’t wish to do this. At the most I wish to make suggestions. I wish even to make those suggestions ambiguous so that the people will have some freedom to share, as it were, in the exploration of things beyond their imagination that started me off in the first place.

7:00     What disturbs me so deeply is that our . . . that the history of our civilization is the history, isn’t it, not of the wars, as they tell us it is. . . but it’s the history of our . . . well, a history that includes Thoreau for instance. . . .  Why can’t we learn? Why do we continually, when something is possibly beautiful, why do we find every way in our hands to trample on it?  Why, when something could open our eyes, why do we close our eyes and pay no attention? I suppose we have to do it over again. It’s difficult to understand and perhaps there is no hope for us.

8:24     Let me point out again, we’re about to celebrate our country’s 200th anniversary and just three years ago we celebrated my 60th. Both the country and I . . . and I am afraid for all of us, it is not a very brilliant moment. It’s a dark moment. The most we can say that would be affirmative would be that we have to – something like we’re in for a period of self-examination to discover whether what we are doing is what we meant to do.

9:40     I have apparently done my work in such a way that when people do their worst work and throw every consideration to the winds, they connect it with me.  When they do the least thing that they can imagine to do, and repeatedly do it, they connect it with me.

10:15   I have told in one of the diaries this touching story. I am, as you know, if a politician at all, an anarchist. And there was a book I wanted to read called Men Against the State[2].
And I thought that the man who had written it lived in the neighborhood, or one who had the last copy, someone, either one or the other. Anyway, I got in touch with him, drove over – it was near Stony Point, it turned out, about fifteen miles away. And he had lived all alone all of his life, and then just recently he had gone to try and had adopted two little black children. And when he brought them back to live with him – and this was the first time anyone had lived with him, and he had devoted his life to anarchy – these children were so happy to be in this house, and away from institutional living, that they jumped up and down on the beds.  And he told me – and this was what was so touching – that he found it necessary after a whole life devoted to anarchy, he found it necessary to make a rule [AUDIENCE LAUGHS]. And his rule was “No jumping up and down on the beds!” [RHYTHMIC POUNDING ON THE PIANO]

12:00   Yesterday, when I drew this circle on the board, [the circle] that Suzuki had drawn on the board, and which shows the ego as being able to close things in or open them out, to get things flowing or to constrict them, he said Zen wants us to get it flowing.

12:30   Now, the misinterpretation of this consists in, “Well, if anything goes, I can do anything I want!” And that’s precisely the wrong interpretation.  And I have said this over and over again in my writings and people simply don’t read what they don’t want to read. Over and over again, no matter how many times I say, “You can’t do what you want, but anything goes,” everyone interprets it as “I can do any GOD DAMN THING I WANT!” [BANGS ON PIANO]


13:18   What happens when Julius Eastman . . . ? I was told, I didn’t see it, I may be wrong, because when people tell things they sometime get them mixed up – but I was told before I came here on this trip that the performances of the S.E.M. were very controversial with respect to my Song Books.  I had seen Julius Eastman perform some four or five years ago, or three, or whatever, in Albany and it was a beautiful performance.[3] I had been told that the last time he performed this piece here that he made homosexual advances to a young man in the audience and did this under the pretense that it was part of my composition.[4]  The piece is written so indeterminately that almost anyone— anything that one could think of doing could be excused, as I will shortly tell you that Julius last night excused himself.  But, again last night, with two other people, the question of homosexuality arises again, and sexuality generally. And it's particularly not implied in this work, since the basis of this work, if one reads the directions – one assumes the performer does – “we connect Satie with Thoreau.”[5] Neither Satie nor Thoreau is known to have had any sexual connection with anyone or anything. This is one of the things that, – why we connect them is that, they were two great people who never were in love. Neither one of them. Another thing that connects them, curiously, connects them with me – this love of symmetry. Satie looks at a lake and sees the trees.  I mean, Thoreau looks at a lake and sees the trees reflected in the water, and he speaks at length about how this seeing it go down or go up symmetrically was so deeply moving to him. And, if you analyze, as I have, a number of the works of Satie, you see that symmetry was deeply satisfying to him.

16:20   When you see that Julius Eastman from one performance to the next does the same thing, harps on the same thing, in other words does his thing and that his thing unfortunately has become this one thing of sexuality . . . .  Admittedly, he performs beautifully. . . and if it were not for the fact that the performance was connected with my work, I could easily find it enjoyable. Or as my father used to tell me, “Don’t give it a thought.  Ten years later you won’t remember it.”

17:20   Sweep it under the rug. However, in this situation it seems necessary for me to speak – and I can’t speak conclusively – [to] speak to you as I am now, to let you know that I don’t approve.

17:43   Let’s begin now with why I don’t approve. I don’t approve because the ego of Julius Eastman is closed in on the subject of homosexuality. And we know this because he has no other idea to express. In a Zen situation where his mind might open up and flow with something beyond his imagination, he doesn’t know the first step to take. He’s said to be a composer. Why then is he a performer?  He’s said to be a performer. Why then doesn’t he try to do the work that he sets out to perform in its spirit? I asked him after it, I said, “Which solo were you doing?” And I was so disturbed by the whole situation that it didn’t even occur to me then that he had turned a solo into a trio. He needed two assistants to make a solo. I had very carefully written the word solo, and neither he nor I last night realized that that was his preliminary mistake.

19:20   The girl who sang – all of them, including Petr, and Jan[6] – became caricatures of people, rather than people on a path toward unknown revelations. [AUDIENCE LAUGHS at something not spoken]. Each one had a tic. Whereas I wrote ninety things[7] – as I told you yesterday morning – in a short space of time I wrote ninety things which go in many directions and produce what Jan Williams some years ago said was a work of great richness.  Last night it seemed poverty stricken. The only thing that was lively in its terms was that these four people, or four or five people were doing different things. But all the old aspects of what you might call commercial art were present to wipe out any vitality from the imagination. Like, why had I written so many parts? Why in the preface do I ask a performer to make a program of actions?[8] And then these people all make their programs separately, and then they are superimposed, so that the whole situation becomes a rich unpredictable field of irrational things not thought out together.  Instead, when Julius comes on with the two people,[9] he goes to the center of the stage, and stays there, and . . . is in the spotlight.

22:15   So I said to Julius, “Which of the solos were you doing and why did you only do one?”  He told me that through performing the work too many times he’s become bored with it. I said, “If you’re bored with it, why do you do it?” And he said, he thought he wouldn’t do it in the future, and I said, “I’d be very grateful to you if you don’t.”

22:48   Now here’s a little byline from Texas. I received a letter from a group called “Theatre” and they asked me to write something for them to perform. I write back that I’m over-committed, that I’m so busy I can’t see straight, . . . that furthermore I have written a theatre piece, [and] that they could perform it. And do you know what comes back in the mail? I write on these Note-O-Grams and there is the note-section and then there’s the reply-section. This was a gift to me originally from Dick Higgins, who had the Something Else Press. And he wanted to make it necessary for me to get through my correspondence quickly. So, anyway, I wrote a Note-O-Gram and back comes a note from the people, “May we use your Note-O-Gram as something which we will perform . . . by you?” Hmm? [AUDIENCE LAUGHS]. In other words, may we turn something which you did not mean as a theatre piece into a theatre piece which we will then program and ascribe to you?  And I wrote back and said, “Of course not. You may not do that. You may of course do it, if you say that you do it.  But you may not do it and say that I’m doing it.”

25:12   The reason this problem is insolvable, and that anything I say now will only confuse both you and me, is because you know that I don’t want to say what I just said.  I don’t want to get a world situation in which I am separate from you, in which my feet are clean and yours are dirty. I confess that I just don’t know what the solution is. I wish that the human race could take advantage of its highest aspirations rather than continually sinking back to its lowest habits as though it were a bunch of alligators instead of people.

26:15   What is it? [to someone in the audience]

Peter Yates:[10] Can you. . . . Going a little bit aside, years ago, you disowned the object, the product as the object, and yet you and I once had a short, exciting talk on the phone where you were defending a more recent object. I’m not trying to put you in the wrong, understand, but now I wish that you could clear up a little bit what you mean by the object not existing, and yet, as you said the other day, there is a vitality in the object to exist by itself, which is something you can put away […?…].

26:56   Cage:  Was I talking about the music having a life of its own?

Yates:  Well, I would presume that would apply to any art or any . . .

Cage:  Or sound, or a sound?

Yates:  Any made object, which has . . . .

Cage:  A sound could be like that.

27:11   Yates:  Yes, but that’s what I’m a little bit unclear about. At what point does the object cease to exist. We’re discussing an object which has certain definable properties and a very large area of indefinable properties. But you . . . this does exist because as it has been used the indefinables have been misused, as you say. Or the definables have not been clearly followed. In other words, there is an object. Am I making myself clear?

27:49   Cage:  Well, I asked Julius what Solo he had performed. And he had performed, he said, “Solo such-and-such-a-number.”[11] “Make a . . .” The directions are very simple: “Make a disci–[plined]”—  How does it go, Petr [Kotik]?

Petr Kotik:  Make a disciplined act.

Cage:  Is that all? It's something more than that isn’t it?  No, it must be more than that.[12]

Kotik:  I can find it, maybe.

Cage: Yes, do find it.

Kotik:  I don’t know if I have it or if he [Eastman] has it.

28:23   Cage:  In other words, what is meant there is, give through your actions an example of discipline in the person. Now, I asked then, Julius, how he understood discipline. What he understands is that you decide what to do and then you do it.  And that is not what I understand of it. By discipline I understand something that will act as a yoke, or yoga, to the ego, keeping the ego from getting bigger, so that its boundaries will dissolve and you will be free of its likes and dislikes, and so that what Julius was doing was precisely in my terms an undisciplined action, because he was doing what he wanted. That’s why I’m so opposed to spontaneity.

29:29   Yates:  You still haven’t answered my question, John.

Cage:  No, because I didn’t really understand it. Say it again.

Yates:  Well, at the time, and this was probably in the earlier ‘50’s, you disowned the object as an existence as I . . .

Cage:  You see, when you say disowned an object I have to better understand because I don’t remember which object I disowned.

Yates:  Well, it was the object as a work of art as something that is made which exists by itself. 

Cage:  But I don’t see that if I disowned it, that I was making much sense, because I’ve done nothing but make works of art all these years.

Yates: That’s why I’m asking you the question.  Either I misunderstood you or this was an idea which you have completely reversed.

30:24   Cage:  I think what I have done is to give different, well you know different uses for art, and that idea I got right away from Peter Yates. I should say, by the way, that of my friends in the room, my oldest friend here is Peter Yates. An older friend than Mark [?]. And Peter Yates brought Los Angeles and the whole megalopolitan area there, he brought it modern musically to life through the beautiful programs in his home which are called Evenings on the Roof. And which are probably still called Evenings on the Roof?

31:16   Yates:  They are Monday Evening Concerts[13] and they are given out in the Auditorium at the county airbase.

Cage:  But even after they left your house they still for a while called them on the roof.

Yates:  Oh, yes.

31:30   Cage:  And Mrs. Yates[14] was the sister of my roommate in college. We’ve had many conversations over the years and we’ve done all the things that people can do. That is to say, we’ve seen eye-to-eye and we’ve had trouble understanding one another and so forth and so on.

32:15   I think that instead of . . . you see, those people in Texas wanted to perform something of mine, even if it wasn’t by me. Hmm?  And why?  For commercial reasons.

32:40   Unknown Speaker 3 [Morton Feldman?]:  John, Julius’ performance was blatant. But how about the other performances? 

Cage:  I’ve already said, they became like people with tics. They had, like it says, do your own thing – each one was doing their own thing. The girl who sang gave a feeling of, oh, . . . “I don’t give a damn” all evening. Instead of having prepared her program as it says explicitly in the directions to do, she had a stack of manuscript there and she was continually looking through it to see whether or not she wanted to do something and mostly being disgusted with what she discovered in the pile. Why was she disgusted? Because she hadn’t given herself to any of it. At no time did she sing with any distinction. No sound that came out of her mouth was able to get free of her. She set no boats sailing on any pond. [laughter]. She stepped on everything she did. . . and finally put a hat on, and said to the audience, which was not at all, by no means in any of the parts, she said, "Don’t you wish you were up here performing in this piece?” Meaning, “Don’t you wish that you too could do any goddamn thing you wanna do . . . in public?!”

34:58   And she couldn’t understand when I explained to her afterward that she hadn’t performed the piece. So where do we live? Why do we go to these schools, if we’re going to decide to live stupidly? Why do we speak of education?

What is it you wanted to ask? [to someone in the audience]

35:34   Unknown Speaker 4: I was discussing what happened last night with some of the other composers here and I remember reading, I think it was first on the back of a record of yours, that you said basically the same thing when you described how you felt that you’d published a work.  But once the work was done, it was a being in itself and if somebody hurt that being they were not hurting you, and . . .

35:59   Cage:  That’s right.  Haven’t I tried to suggest that now?

Unknown Speaker 4:  Well, I think that’s what you [Peter Yates] were asking, wasn’t that?

Yates: No, I asked a different question, but I don’t think we ought to raise that one again. 

Cage:  I still don’t understand.

Yates:  Well, maybe we once had a difference of memory about our first discussion of Stravinsky.  It might be that we’re in the same boat again, but which of us is forgetting exactly what was said is what I wasn’t sure of.

Unknown Speaker 3 [Morton Feldman?]:  Are you asking why does he care? In other words why . . .

Unknown Speaker 4:  I’m asking if he cares, or whether you are just pointing out that the piece was performed badly?

36:47   Cage: No, I said, didn’t I, at the beginning that this was again a situation in which I regretted having written this piece. I regret, yes I do regret, and I will go on regretting, until I hear – which is unlikely – a good performance of this work, a performance of it in its spirit, where it comes to life.

37:25   Kotik:  I can’t find it [the score].  I think Julius has it.

Cage:  Well, that would be appropriately curious.

Kotik: Can I say something?

Cage: Yes?

Kotik: I can’t very well comment on your things because I haven’t seen the performance yesterday, and I might have been more upset maybe even than you by what I’d have seen it, I don’t know.[15] I think it’s incorrect information which you got on Julius’ act.[16] It was this . . .

Cage:  You don’t think he did that before?

Kotik:  Well, I know that he did not. But again, I’m not sure because the piece itself involves everybody so much and so deeply. But one is so much involved in what [one] is doing that there is not much time to watch for what’s going on elsewhere except . . . 

Cage:  No, I understand that.

Kotik: So, I . . . one thing . . .

38:32   Cage: I think that last night when I told you that you shouldn’t as a director of a group, that you shouldn’t permit such a thing, you said, “How can I direct something that is so free?  How can I tell people what to do?”  I think that in the page of directions it says that there should be a rehearsal in order to see whether the multiplicity of things happening at one and the same time are going to obstruct one another.

Kotik: I, I don’t [know] . . .

Cage: I think it says that. […?…] I see […?…] that it is […?…] indicated.

39:11   Kotik:  Yes, yes. Well, I remember being with you many years ago and you had mentioning the performance which was being prepared with Cathy Berberian and I understood that you were refusing to make any rehearsals. “And you said “I would rather cancel it.”

Cage:  But you can’t do it if people are going to bump into one another.

Kotik:  There are always two possibilities. You let the children jump on the bed or you make the rule. And I have decided to take the chance of failing rather than directing other people. I have one . . .

40:10   Cage: One thing you should make sure is that soloists don’t engage assistants.

Kotik: Now I did not know that there is any assistants until Julius came onstage. 

Cage:  No, I know you didn’t know.

Kotik:  I presumed that he needed two chairs to make a game, to play chess.



Kotik:  Yes, which is not so bad, in itself. 

Cage:  No, in the case of his own work it might even be enlightening.

40:42   Kotik:  [Sigh.] I don’t know. It seems to me that if one withdraws himself from being director and takes the chances, that one has a coin with two sides. One is very exciting and unpredictable, and one is embarrassingly bad. And it's very, I think, it’s not possible to solve that problem for satisfaction to have just the good side of it.

Unknown Speaker 5:  One may be the piece and one may not be the piece.

41:28   Cage: When one person does one solo – look it says here “given two or more singers, each should make an independent program, not fitted or related in a predetermined way to anyone else’s program.” Now whether doing one thing as Julius did is making a program I see is not clear from that.

Kotik:  It’s clear from the next part down [in the score], which says any number of solos can be performed including none, I think.

42:10   Cage:  “Any number of solos in any order and in any superimposition.” Using the word order and superimposition suggests more than one. And in fact, that there are ninety . . . […?…]

Kotik:  Well, I’m not here to advocate for Julius Eastman . . .

Cage: . . . and not focusing and so forth.

Kotik: I stand for what I did only, and that was my intention from the beginning in organizing that performance and we have done— you have seen two performances by this group, and both of them which received extreme reaction . . .

Cage:  The way you perform it has not changed essentially from what I saw before.

Kotik:  It changed somewhat.

Cage:  Somewhat, because you didn’t have the cat mask with you in Albany?

Kotik:  Well, I did not do many other things, and I did do many other things in Albany which I did not do here. So. . . It changes. I think this is. . . I think you like the idea of changing the piece, I hope. I mean not changing the piece, but changing the program. 

Cage:  But you don’t so much.

Kotik:  I do. I do.

Cage:  Well, but the things that you did here I saw you do also in Albany for the most part.

43:35   Cage: Anyway, also the singing was continually through the microphones whereas hopefully there would have been, since the piece […?…] electronics.

Kotik:  I have sang (sic) one song without normal microphone. I have sang one song without microphone.

Cage:  And then she didn’t?

Kotik:  I don’t know what she did. Is she here?

Cage: And she was singing most of the time. Anyway, I . . . well, here I . . .

44:08   Kotik: Another question [mumbles] is that . . . I’m not sure whether both Julius and Judy—

Cage:  Normally, in a situation like this the person who had written the material, his opinion would be respected. In fact, one would ask him, “What do you think?” Why is it that that’s not the present case? I admit and know perfectly well that I am not here forever, but I happen to be here.

Kotik: Well, I, I don’t think—

Cage: I mean you might learn something from me.

44:59   Kotik:  I certainly did. I don’t think I’m objecting to what you are saying. There are certain questions which I have. This is all there is, or there might be some observations which I . . .

Unknown Speaker 6 [Morton Feldman?]:  For example, the skis: how did you interpret that particular action in terms of your decision of skis?

Kotik:  Well, it was going on the stage and leaving, in other directions, slowly.

Unknown Speaker 6: Yes.  With total attention to yourself! [(DIRECTED AT KOTIK?)]

45:43   Cage:  But that was not what came through at all.  Nothing that simple as coming on slowly and going away slowly, which is all that the part has said, was given. Instead, a very heavy, what you might call “pop-art” image was given. Imposing heavily on anything that might have come to the spirit of the work which is again from Satie and Thoreau. The cognac, too, at the end.

Kotik: Whose cognac?

Cage: The singer’s, the girl. I must have put it in as it relates to Satie. There’s this . . . it is so entertaining . . . He went into a café and he noticed this line on the Cognac glass and he asked the servant . . .

[End of original reel of tape – it is unclear how much content is missing before the recording resumes]

47:03   Cage:  Well, I’m going to take the advice now that Sue gave yesterday and give up the numbers. She’s over here now. And I have received from some of you -- and you see, this is now Thursday, isn’t it, and there’s just tomorrow -- I’ve received from some of you pieces and you have the desire that I look at them, and if others of you have material that you want me to see, I will see it.  And I will try to... That’s one possibility.  The other possibility is I might not be able to do that, but I could try. The other thing is that we will continue now by, in the way that we are now together, which is that you, we talk about -- we talk, and bring up anything that you wish, so that you could bring up the question of the work, and do what it is you came here to do.  Yes?

48:42   Unknown Speaker 7: Did you have any intention in the equalization of the sound levelization of the speakers?  Was that part of the piece? Because I noticed that was processing information from one speaker and it would sound here, here, and different sites.  That interaction, was that intentional, or. . . ?

48:58   Cage:  It could be. You see, as I explained yesterday morning, the work includes songs or theatre, with or without electronics, and when you have electronics what you have essentially are microphones and amplifiers and other equipment in between, perhaps, and then loudspeakers, and those loudspeakers can be anywhere in the space. So you have an unpredictable situation there that can be utilized.  And there are various ways to use them as we now know. And we now know, I hope at least the ones in this room now know, that I would want to find a way of using them that didn’t fulfill my intentions, but which brought about a situation that I had not intended and that would somehow be hopefully, and almost certainly, as revealing as those birds passing by yesterday. [CAGE CHUCKLES]

50:15   Why shouldn’t we make our work so that we can encourage the things like that? Or the man here at the window?

Unknown Speaker 8: Why don’t you see Julius as that?

Cage: I know.

Unknown Speaker 8: As a little bird doing his thing? Why isn’t it all right that in fact he opened up for you something which you didn’t intend?

50:46   Cage:  Yes, I know and I will try as you ask me to do now to reexamine why I don’t feel that way. And it’s also the subject – didn’t I mention the reading in my experiences with Buddhists in Kobe? And in the current issue of Loka[17] – L-O-K-A – my reasons for not agreeing with that are given. I have devoted my life to this business of the crossroads that I speak of, and everything I’ve done has been done because of the decision to go in the direction of those sounds which I don’t intend. Another way of putting it is I have decided to listen, to take the attitude of listening, or the attitude of silence, which is listening. Now, when having taken that and wishing to give that experience to which I have devoted my life, the people doing it do it not in the spirit of listening or silence, but do it in the spirit of speaking and putting their ideas across in the most conventional ways. Why can’t I? Why must I? Why mustn’t I draw the line and say “No, that's not what I meant” and “I don’t accept that”?

52:41   Unknown Speaker 8:  Don’t you get very wrapped up then in your . . .  It seems like that you have an idea and you have an intention, and those are both to remove intention and idea.

Cage: The only thing that makes it seem to be an idea is our language when we talk about it. There is no idea there, but then our language says, “Well, there must be an idea there.”  The fact that there is no idea is an idea, is what you are saying.

Unknown Speaker 8:  Well, it might be. It seems so.  It seems that, well, why else would you get so excited and bang on the piano?

53:16   Cage:  Well, because I have this gift . . . to make things impressive.


Unknown Speaker 8:  Well, I have to say what I said at that party, I don’t believe you.  There is some streak . . .

Cage:  . . .That makes me bang on the piano?

Unknown Speaker G:  Yes, of course, but. . . .

Cage:  My grandfather used to throw chairs.


Unknown Speaker 8:  Why be absorbed in what seems to me, and I mentioned this Monday, why be devoted to making things which seems to be somehow expression of ego, if then only to demonstrate to yourself or provide an opportunity for people to transcend that? Why be glued to the notion of composing things?

54:26   Cage:  That’s what David Tudor said to me. He said, “Why do you go on doing this?  Why do you cling to composition?” Now, if you see David he’ll very sharply in this conversation explain to you that he’s a composer. [LAUGHTER] I mean very emphatically. I think what we do, and I think the answer to that question is a very simple one. At least, I don’t see it otherwise. We sleep. We rest. And when we wake up we have energy and my energy goes in this direction in which my life is given, and it’s the making of music. And that my notion of music is come to the point of silence and of not interrupting, in its spirit, the situation as it was before the sounds began, is, so to speak, nature. And when that nature is not clear I fall into this banging on the piano situation. Now, I don’t often do that. I think the only reason I did it today is because of this whole atmosphere of you people who are all active in your various ways coming to this situation which has been given -- put in the limelight . . . Morty . . . “June in Buffalo” . . .

Unknown Speaker 9 [Morton Feldman?]: It’s June, it’s not Elliot Sharp.

56:21   Cage: No but there is . . . It is difficult for me not to think that this situation is without some kind of importance, so that I felt this afternoon that it was necessary for me to at least attempt, though I knew I would fail, at least attempt to speak to the situation that arose.

[start of new track on reformatted version on compact disc]


56:53   Say you decide, as you very may well, that the way I’m solving it, or the way I’m reacting to it, is not the right way.  Then that will help you, perhaps.  You will at least know that I am disturbed. You will at least be unsure of whether I am intelligent or not.  As you’ve just now said, you will not believe me.  That’s good.

57:42   People come up to me now so frequently, as some of you have . . .  “Now that you’re part of the establishment” is the beginning of the sentence. How can I be part of the establishment when you don’t believe me? Or is that what an establishment is?

Yates: Yes! […?…]


Cage: Well then, this will let you do what it is you must do.

Yates:  You could be a good administrator, John, because . . .


Cage:  Well Dick Winslow[18] told me that.    He said we need a new president of the University.

58:43   Unknown Speaker 10 [Morton Feldman?]: John, what distinction would you make between license and freedom?

Cage:  I would go back, I would try to find when I make decisions -- and this is what I do when I am alone, and where I can do, so to speak, anything -- I try to find, looking back through my experience, I try to find those things that I believe. And then by reconsidering them to see if in that neighborhood I can find what to do. And one of the things that I believe that I’ve known some time now, that I have no reason for giving up believing, is that lecture that I heard from Suzuki[19]. Therefore, even though I regret, as I said today, the Song Books, I will go on with this concern of freeing things from my ego and moving if I can toward the freeing for the performers and for the listeners . . . both in that situation of their being considered to be separate, and in the situation they’re not being considered separate.

1:00:42   Keeping in mind all along that we’re not looking for just one way, but that we’re grateful for every way we discover. And if we find thirty, that’s good, but if we find sixty that’s better.  This is probably not a response to your question either.

Unknown Speaker 10:  No, I didn’t want a response . . . that much.

Cage:  Any other?  Yeah?

1:01:39   George Cisneros:[20]  I have two questions. One is how far can one go in being perceptive of sound and redesigning the moments or entrances of sound and still be accused of composition? And, such as . . . . Well, ideas that come to mind are like Max Neuhaus’s piece in the subway in New York City. To me that was very similar to the idea of a wind chime. Simply, because, I said, “Well, if a person could make a wind chime, it wouldn’t be hard to make another instrument or another sound device?” So, I end up with a person who makes a piano, can that be an act of composition?

1:02:25   Cage: This is George Cisneros and . . . I haven’t seen any of your performances, but yesterday you gave me three, what do we call that, directions, pieces where you give the directions and then this could lead to something that would be done. The question is whether one thing, well, imposes on this, well . . . The question is, “How can we be both purposeful and purposeless at the same time?”  Isn’t it?

1:03:22   Cisneros:  Maybe I should ask the second question and you can refer to both of them.  I was wondering – now, say there’s a man who’s very aware of the sounds of, we’ll say – what’s the name of the street out here? – Main Street. And he becomes aware of, perhaps, the oppressiveness of certain sounds. So, he designs a muffler to be placed upon buses that will lower the sound of the bus as it passes by and he thinks of this as a compositional problem, and not as just a structural engineering problem, and he is perhaps a musician on the side. And he thinks, “Wow, this is a very good piece to create a way of lowering the sound of the city.” Now, how far, again, in your opinion can a person go in this realm and still be considered – or still be accused of – composing?

<UNCLEAR comments from audience members>

1:04:21   Cisneros:  Well, that’s just because of the fact that there are some people in the room that are trying to create systems that are, say, organically self-producing, that have nothing to do with the individual. Say, a laser piece or an electric eye piece that the participant – like, unknowing spectators instigating that kind of sound or something. And so they’re creating a system rather than creating a sound.

1:04:42   Yates: Well, if you are in a place where there are a number of mosquitoes and you open the screen door, you’re creating such a system.

Cisneros:  Yes, that’s what I’m – this is – it’s all related. It’s the same type of question.

Yates: Well, is that […?…]?

Cisneros: That’s a good question.

Cage:  This is an activity involving sound.

Cisneros:  Right, yeah.  To me I always thought composition was the manipulation of perception, respect and appreciations. 

1:05:13   Cage:  That's another possibility. I don’t know, I think in this case that we can go in many directions, and that we will be able to tell, or we will be even able to change our minds about whether something is or isn’t a composition.  Yes?

1:05:42   Unknown Speaker 11:  Do you feel that, if we were to write a piece in which we use chance operations, that we would be somehow imitating you and not being true to ourselves?

Cage:  I don’t think so for this reason, as I said it first on Monday. As far as I could see, the composition consisted in finding the question to ask, or questions to ask. So that even though you used chance operations, to which my particular one Sue objected, what was important was not that I was using the I Ching or some other means, but the question I was asking was which person is going to speak, and that was in this situation an interesting and useful question to ask. If I hadn’t asked the question in that way, another thing would have happened, as we know from our democratic educational system – the person who is most willing to speak speaks. But through the chance operations we were able to get words from people who would have preferred, left to themselves, not to speak at all.

Unknown Speaker 12 [Morton Feldman?]:  You got rid of the limelight.

1:07:15   Cage:  Something else happened as a result of recourse to chance operations, and it invariably does in my experience. And it isn’t imitating of me to use them.

Unknown Speaker 13: Although it is a precedent.

1:07:27   Cage:  It is a precedent, but it’s a precedent which doesn’t determine what is done. Do you see, if you write twelve-tone music, the means that you are using have a great deal to do with what happens? Whereas when you use chance operations, it has very little to do, absolutely nothing that I can see to do, with the questions that you ask. All it means is that your mind is quiet enough, if it is – quiet enough to receive the answer. I have a very dear friend, an older friend even than Peter Yates. [AUDIENCE LAUGHS] He’s the painter Morris Graves and I recently wrote a text and there’s a book recently published of his drawings, and I wrote the text about it, so that I had some connection with it. And through a mutual friend who helps me when I have trouble with my skin, a doctor, Dr. Alvin Friedman King, I learned that he had gone to see Morris. And Morris said that he didn’t take my involvement with chance operations very seriously because he was sure that if things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them, then I gave them a little push . . . in the direction in which I wanted them to. And that’s not true, I assure you.

1:09:09   I also received just before I came here in the mail a letter from an early girlfriend of Christian Wolff, a very beautiful girl, Renee Watkins. Do you remember her?

               Morton Feldman: Sure. She was fantastically beautiful.

               Cage: And she wrote to say that she had read Silence[21] finally, . . . [AUDIENCE LAUGHS] . . . but that she hadn’t read the calendar book. And I wondered what that was, and then I realized that it was A Year from Monday[22], that she also had read M[23], but that she herself was writing a book called A. [AUDIENCE LAUGHS] And then she remarked something about the Scarlet Letter . . . A, and both the fact that she said the Scarlet Letter and then proceeded to say something about her guts, that that was what she was trying to express in the book. So her guts and scarletness and being the first letter of the alphabet made me think that there was something limelightish going on. And she said that she had heard from the lady in charge of my books at Wesleyan University that I had used the I Ching to get a letter from the alphabet, and that when I didn’t get the right letter I kept on tossing until I got the letter M, which is not true. It was the very first one that came up. And what I do in my mind before I made that toss, I wouldn’t have asked that question if I hadn’t been willing to take the answer. And why people think, why Morris thinks, that if we don’t like the answer that we will shift it so that we do like it. On the other hand, what we do do is we take the answer and then if we don’t like it we try to find out why we don’t like it. That’s why I speak of self-examination, and why I welcome what you said in advice.  Yes.

1:11:47   Unknown Speaker 14:  When you talk about breaking down the distinction between the performer and the audience as one route that you can take, you do not mention breaking down the distinction between the performer and the audience and the composer. My question is that don’t you think that when you mention talk about the performance and the role – you said that some people want to take the limelight – don’t you think that the reason for this is that because of the gigantic superimposition upon the audience and the performers of the ego of the composer, because it is indeed him that has brought them together and told them what to do, that of necessity some of them want to try to overcome that suppression of ego? And don’t you think that more involvement of the audience performers in composition would reduce the tendency for single limelights, and maybe they’re all limelights, therefore no limelights?

1:12:48   Cage:  That kind of feeling is taking place in Phillip Corner’s situation and I think what I’ve already said about that, and that there’s work to be done in that direction, and that there also, there are more and more people interested in working.

Unknown Speaker 14:  I’m just interested in it for your own work, that’s why I’m asking.

Cage: I think I’ve told you all I can on that respect right now. I have now to write for these orchestras and groups. And I have decided, as I said on Monday, to write in such a way that I know less and less about what it is I’m doing. That is to say, I won’t write for the first clarinetist or the second, so . . . But I will write in such a way that it could be the first person who came in the door. That the nature of what I’m obliged to do now doesn’t let me go full-heartedly into the situation of which you speak.

When we look back over what it is we do, I think we find not a simple situation or a simple history, but a very complex history. And I’ve tried to indicate something of that in the preface to the document on my work that Peter’s publishing[24] where I show the various kinds of composition that have interested me, and some of them that continue to interest me where the closing date isn’t given. And since that document was published there are more things that I have come to do. I’m inclined now, because of these experiences of the work not being done suitably – this is what inclined me in the texts on the future of music – to defining music as work, and useful work. And then I told you how the doorbell rang, and even though I’d come to that conclusion, how I had to accept the useless, too. But my tendency now, because of these circumstances that are disgruntling and make me bang on the table, I tend toward work and usefulness and moving. When I move toward performers or toward performances, moving toward people who will work rather than people who won’t work. People who will give up their– devote themselves to their work in a selfless way like Grete Sultan.[25]


1:16:07   When I gave her the first pieces she saw that they were very difficult. She’s almost my age. She also she has as I do arthritis. She learned from observing that people put tape around the legs of race horses. She, without any instruction from a doctor, she put tape around her fingers, and it helps. But when she saw that I was writing very, very difficult music for her, she said, “Do you think I can do it?” And . . . I knew that she could do it because she would devote herself to it, whereas many people won’t devote themselves. They are clinging to themselves. They want to, well, anyway . . . . She is very timid, very nervous. Or was.  She's less nervous now. But, she kept asking for reassurance and she was reluctant to let me hear what she was doing. And furthermore she knew that I didn’t want it to be expressive of my feelings, but expressive of itself. And she said, “I’m afraid I’m making it too romantic.”  And I said, "Well, do you like the music?"  And she said, "I’m devoted to it." I mean, the situation is magnificent, but I still hadn’t heard it. And almost nine months passed by from about the time I gave her the manuscripts, the first eight etudes, and now recently I’ve given her the second eight which I’ve shown you . . . before she would let me hear it. And I even went through mutual friends to say that I was looking forward so much to hearing. In fact, I was getting a habit of dreaming at night that I had heard her play. And fortunately, when I dreamt that I heard her, it was very beautiful.

1:18:50   So there was something that got me into the state of pounding the piano. Not now, but one day. Everything was going wrong. I was very distracted. I forget now why, as my father would say. I can’t remember. And the phone rang and it was Greta and she said “Would you like to come over and hear the music?” And I paused because I thought, isn’t this ironic, that after nine months she invites me to hear it, something I’ve wanted to hear all these months, and now I have to listen to it when I’m all cluttered up with a confusion of emotions? That was just a moment. It takes longer to tell you. So that I then said yes, I’ll be right over. And in the meantime I had realized that if the music was – if I couldn’t listen to it at that time, that I oughtn’t be able to listen to it at any other time. So I went over, and then this thing that is an old cliché, that we all know, it’s one of the definitions – it’s not a definition of music it’s a description of it. When she played, all my feelings disappeared. I became, well, in a state of wonder. In the presence of the wondrous as I had been when I had the pleasure of writing it. And it was different to hear it than to write it. And it was marvelous to be free of having to write it. So, the cliché I refer to is “music soothes the savage breast.”


Unknown Moderator: Thank you, John.

Cage:  You want me to stop?

[1] 326 Monroe Street.
Carolyn Brown, Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham, Ch. 1 – ”Beginnings” (page # not apparent), Random House Digital, Inc., 2009:


Nancy Dalva, Moody Merce, Chipper Cage: A Memoir of Movement, 3/12/07,

[2] This could be Martin, James Joseph. Men against the State: The Expositors of Individualist Anarchism in America, 1827-1908. Colorado Springs, Colo.: R. Myles, 1970.

[3] It is not clear which concert he is referring to here.

[4] Cage is possibly referencing one of two specific concerts listed on this website –

January 29, 1972. Cologne, Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Musik der Zeit. S.E.M. Ensemble performed Song Books.


May 3, 1973. New York, Bank Street College (610 West 112th Street), Auditorium. S.E.M. Ensemble performed Song Books; Cage not in attendance (Rockwell 1973b; Rockwell 1973d).

[5] John Cage, Song Books, p.1, “General Directions”: “Each solo belongs to one of four categories: 1) song; 2) song using electronics*; 3) theatre; 4) theatre using electronics*. Each is relevant or irrelevant to the subject: “We connect Satie with Thoreau.””

[6] He’s referring to the three other S.E.M. Ensemble members who also performed solos during Cage’s Song Books the night before. The full lineup, according to the June in Buffalo program: Petr Kotík, flute, director; Julius Eastman, voice; Judith Martin, synthesizer; Jan Williams, percussion.

[7] Song Books consists of 90 solos: Solos for Voice 3–92

[8] Song Books, p. 1: “Given two or more singers, each should make an independent program, not fitted or related in a predetermined way to anyone else’s program. Any resultant silence in a program is not to be feared. Simply perform as you had decided to do, before you knew what would happen.”

[9] Eastman came out with a man and woman, who were not announced on the program, and who were not members of the S.E.M. Ensemble. Cage refers to them throughout as Eastman’s assistants.

[10] Peter Yates was the Chair of the Music Department at SUNY Buffalo State College (1968–197?), and the founder of the Evenings on the Roof concert-series in Los Angeles (later renamed Monday Evening Concerts)

[11] most likely “SOLO FOR VOICE 8 (0’0”)”

[12] The score, labeled “THEATRE USING ELECTRONICS” and “(IRRELEVANT)” reads:

In a situation provided with maximum amplification (no feedback), perform a disciplined action.

With any interruptions.

   Fulfilling in whole or part an obligation to others.

   No attention to be given the situation (electronic, musical, theatrical).

[13] Monday Evening Concerts is still in existence, in Los Angeles, after being founded in 1939. – brief bio:

[14] Mrs. Yates = Frances Mullen –

[15] Despite this slightly confusing statement that he hadn’t seen the performance the night before, this is indeed still Petr Kotik speaking. He is likely just making the point that he didn’t get to [fully?] see Julius’s performance the night before because (as he states in a moment) he was too busy performing his own Solo.

[16] Kotik here is likely referencing and refuting Cage’s suggestion that Eastman was doing the same thing – the same disciplined act – the night before that he was rumored to have performed during a previous S.E.M. Ensemble concert of Song Books, which Cage describes earlier, but had not himself witnessed.

[17] Probably “Empty Words: John Cage Talks Back.” Loka: a Journal from Naropa Institute [Garden City, New York] no. 1 (1975), 96-97.

[18] Richard K. Winslow, composer and faculty member at Wesleyan University.

[19] Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki (1870-1966).

[20] George Cisneros:

[21] Cage, John. Silence: Lectures and Writings. Cambridge, Mass.; London: M.I.T. Press, 1966.

[22] Cage, John. A Year From Monday: New Lectures and Writings. Middletown [CT]: Wesleyan University Press, 1967.

[23] Cage, John. M: Writings, '67-'72. Middletown, Conn, 1973.

[24] C. F. Peters

[25] Pianist Grete Sultan (1906-2005) – Cage is referring to his work, Etudes Australes, which he dedicated to Sultan.