Possessing Nothing: John Cage Song Books
‘To consider the Song Books as a work of art is nearly impossible. Who would dare? It resembles a brothel, doesn’t it?’ John Cage
In collaboration with Elaine Mitchener Projects, Poet in the City presents an event celebrating the lyricism of John Cage’s iconic Song Books.
Published in 1970 the Song Books were written on commission for Cathy Berberian and Simone Rist. Cage consulted the I ching (the Chinese oracle book) to determine how many songs would go into each book: 56 and 34 were the responses. This left him with the ridiculous task of writing ninety new pieces for a solo singer in only three months. For each song Cage had to ask three questions and receive the answers by tossing coins and consulting the I ching. The answers would give him instructions on how to discover this solo. Both volumes are a diverse, cornucopia of innovative musical ideas, code and fragments that reconsider the lyric in an unlikely, asyntactical guise. Shards of text disrupt and distract, demonstrating his famous claim that ‘there is poetry as soon as we realize that we possess nothing’.
These songs have delighted and beguiled audiences and vocalists alike in equal measure since their first staging with their notes such as ‘perform a disciplined action’. His relationship with his Black Mountain College contemporaries such as Charles Olsen and Alan Ginsberg shines through the works.
Part of Poet in the City’s Poetry & Lyrics Festival 2017 at Kings Place.