Thinking about John Cage

Sun, 23/06/2013 - 13:49 -- damien

One's sense of loss upon hearing of the death of John Cage reminds one, painfully and poignantly, that our age is not nearly so impoverished as some fashionable theory-mongers would have us believe. Cage was one of the great artists-an inspiration, one feels convinced- to all sensitive to his humanity, energy, integrity and joviality.

To meet Cage for the first time was to step from quiet solemnity into sudden hilarity and celebration. "And what are you doing in New York?" "I'm here for a conference on ... " "Well isn't that amazing!" Cage seemed to laugh before the punch-line, between the lines, sensing the rich absurdity of it all, enjoying the fun and surprises of existence. Another time, in Geneva, a day or so after the interview below had been recorded, and a day after I'd guided Cage to the wrong art college building for a public interview that I was to conduct with him in my version of French and his version of French, it was suddenly my turn to confront a variant of the "nightmare". None of the equipment was available: no video, no slide-projector, no overhead projector, no tape-recorder, and there I was, in a tiny cinema, ready to go, with piles of suddenly redundant tapes, cassettes, overhead transparencies and slides. "What do you suggest I do?", I asked, turning to my third-row guru, in despair. "Well", said Cage, cheerfully, "You could always improvise, you could describe the slides, read the texts, and ... " In fact, a tape-recorder was found, and with that at least and at most, I started on my way, again in my version of French. Parisian publishers grimaced, Cage smiled seraphically

Still more recently, I phoned Cage up a little nervously-had he in fact sent the text he'd said he'd send for the Henri Chopin catalogue I was preparing. Yes, he had. Well, it hadn't arrived yet. "I can't control that".

What I sense, now, is the way in which Cage offered a model of generosity and of consideration with regard to those things that he could control. Even if his aesthetic was one of indeterminacy, Cage's ethic was one of determination to do the best he could, wheresoever he could.

Tellingly, perhaps, he defines his sense of curiosity very specifically-not just in terms of asking any questions, but rather, in terms of finding out "what's reasonable to ask" or "what will be productive of interesting answers!"

In his farewells to our last few rapid telephonic exchanges, Cage's words were very much a benediction, as he uttered "Very best wishes, always". Almost hearing these words again, I'm reminded of another occasion, leaving Beckett after conversation over coffee, and to my surprise, hearing, I think, the words, "Goodbye, God bless". Beneath its veneer of disintegration and disorientation, ours is, I'm sure, as positive and as negative an age as any other. John

Cage certainly struck me as being one of the most positive exemplars of the joyful, celebratory impulse within American Postmodern culture. Like all great artists, Cage left one with what he called "a renewed sense of joy, and even a joy close to a change of mind".

Nicholas Zurbrugg Perhaps I could begin by asking you what questions you are asking in your present work?

John Cage At the moment I'm finishing the Freeman Etudes-so those are questions that I began asking twelve years ago. And I had forgotten what they were. So I employed a musicologist to study my manuscripts, to tell me what questions I had been asking! As a result, I've been able to write from Etude 17 through 23. These are very complex works, and the questions are very detailed, because it's the solo violin playing. I had, twelve years ago, found through the use of star-maps where the notes were. I had found which areas were to be not single notes, but aggregates-either two notes, three or four. All of that work needs to be done with the assistance-which I had years ago-of Zukofsky. So that's a continuation of questions. The questions which I'm asking in my new work are not yet clear to me. One has to do with a piece for me to perform which will be called One 7, because it will be the seventh that I've written for a single performer. This will be a way of using my voice, between speaking and vocalising, which won't have a text, but will call upon me-or someone else-to use voice in a variety of ways within flexible time brackets. That's about as clear as I can be.

I may think of the voice as being a number of instruments- for instance, it could be an instrument for the production of vowels, it could be an instrument for the production of aspirants, or consonants. How many different things I might discover-or recognize, rather-I just can't specify. And these time-brackets will be overlapping.

There might be six different uses of the voice, all over-lapping, having different time zones. Whether I could perform them, I will have to discover.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Would that involve using tapes?

John Cage No, no tapes. I've written a piano piece, which is One: 6, for Ellsworth Snyder who lives in. Wisconsin. It gives him two things to do at once, in different time brackets. I'm considering increasing that procedure towards six. And whether one's capable of performing in that complex time situation I don't know. Nicholas Zurbrugg Is it a process of improvising?

John Cage Yes-to improvise within complex timebrackets and over-lapping time-brackets. The timebrackets can be longish or shortish. The shortest one will probably be an overlap of five seconds, and th next an overlap of ten seconds, up to say thirty.

Nicholas Zurbrugg How would you remember these overlaps? Would you have a score in front of you?

John Cage I'd have a reference to the time, and a reference to the uses of the voice, overlapping. Now the marvellous thing about this-if I can do it-is that they will never be the same twice! But it wouldn't be easy to do. However, I can always have recourse to doing nothing, within the time brackets.

Nicholas Zurbrugg This reminds me of Kenneth Gaburo, who said that having worked with groups, one of the problems he was setting himself was whether he could ask one person to perform-as it were-as an individual group.

John Cage That is very similar, isn't it?

Nicholas Zurbrugg I think he wanted a trumpet player to play in a number of ways, and to dance and move in various ways.

John Cage I'm not going to ask myself to dance! But I might ask myself to do something else, other than dance!

Nicholas Zurbrugg And would you be using words? John Cage Well, using words would of course be one of the ways one can use the voice. On the other hand, if I decided not to use words, it would be more musical. With the voice, we can move from language to music, and the field is really rather extensive between the two.

Nicholas Zurbrugg How long would the whole performance be?

John Cage I think it would be at least thirty minutes. The reason for that is that the first performance will be at Hofstra College, on Long Island. They're having a series of readings and performances called Bamboo and Oak, which means the East and the West, and I gave them a choice of reading Empty Words which I can do and everyone knows I can do, and this, which no-one knows but me-and they chose that of course!

Nicholas Zurbrugg Have you done other performances of this nature?

John Cage No, it will be the first time.

Nicholas Zurbrugg And have you come across any other people who seem to be exploring this sort of solo performance?

John Cage Well, you spoke of Kenneth Gaburo. We spoke recently together over the phone. At the present time I've written a mesostic to introduce his book of Chris Mann's writings-he's asked several people to do that. So we have a reconnection; we had one earlier at the University of Illinois. In other words, there are ideas in the air.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Does that interest you, to try to locate ideas that are in the air?

John Cage Oh yes, of course.

Nicholas Zurbrugg I think that might link up with my first question, about what questions one's working on. Do you find that meeting other people, you gain a certain confirmation?

John Cage Well, corroboration. I can imagine that each one will respond to this air-message-so to speak-in his or her own way. So it won't be lacking in originality, which I might want to have, because of my love of invention. But I like also that corroboration, that truly is in the air, because-don't we know that several people invented the electric light at the same time, and only one of them got to the post-office!

Nicholas Zurbrugg Are there any other things in the air that interest you?

John Cage Well, this morning and yesterday I was trying to find out how to approach the Sho, which is a Japanese mouth-pipe instrument, with seventeen pipes, like a bundle of pipes. It's a question of the fingers of the right hand and the fingers of the left hand. I thought I was at the point of understanding what the playing of it is. But going over my notes and so forth, I find it's still part of the 'mysterious East'. I don't know what's going to happen there, or what-as you would put it before-what questions will seem to me to be interesting.

Nicholas Zurbrugg I think this confirms the theory that artists are often defining questions, rather than always answering them. One's work is to identify them.

John Cage To find out what they are, and what's reasonable to ask. Or what will be productive of interesting answers!

Nicholas Zurbrugg Are some of the questions you're asking the consequence of work with technology, or collaborative work in particular?

John Cage I don't think technology is of any particular consequence, except that it changes the specific nature of the question. Otherwise, I think the same attitude that one develops say, towards one set of possibilities can be used in relation to more familiar things, which are also interesting. So that the difference say, between the clarinet and the computer is not as great as one thinks on the surface.

Nicholas Zurbrugg So that the questions that one might ask with technology might appear quite relevant in other places? Put another way, we're not really living in an era in which we're falling off the edge of the known world, as we go into technology?

John Cage No-in fact my tendency now is to go backward, technologically, but stimulated by the technology.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Would that apply to Europera?

John Cage Well, that was another circumstance. One of my first questions when I worked on Europeras 1 and 2 was, can the singers not vibrate? And I was told immediately that that's what they do-they vibrate. So there was no possibility of asking them not to. What one had to do, was to accept the fact that they do what they do, which is vibrate. So I went farther, and said that they can sing whatever they like-chose what arias they wish from the past, providing it's free, in the public domain. And that holds for Europeras 3 and 4, as it did for 1 and 2. The other thing which was perhaps superficially interesting is that instead of using musical instruments, as I did in 1 and 2--or decor and costumes and so forth-there are no costumes or sets in 3 and 4, and there are no musical instruments, except two pianos. The two pianos are played on chance-determined excerpts from the Liszt Opern Phantasien in flexible time-brackets, so that there's an overlapping of this brilliant pianism in bits and pieces scattered through a situation of chosen arias, by the singers. And beyond that, there are only electric Victrolas-that means machines from the period from 1950 to 1960—the technology we no longer have, except as antiques. All those records that have scratches and only last for--oh, at the most-four minutes, but prefer to last two and a half, to three or four minutes! And it's not easy to play.

Nicholas Zurbrugg They're 78s?

John Cage 78s, yes. There are arms in connection with the machines, and a stack of records can be put on, and the machine itself will pick them up and put them away! But it's not easy to play-one has to practice. And in Europera 3 there are twelve such machines for six players, so each player plays two machines, and has a stack of records. In Europera 4 there's only one player, and his machine is not electric. It's manual-the kind that you see with the big horn and the dog, and you have to wind it up. That also requires a certain virtuosity!

Nicholas Zurbrugg I imagine this is very humorous. John Cage Well, it's not so funny, as it is touching. It tends not to make you laugh, but brings tears to your eyes.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Because you remember?

John Cage Because you remember, and the sound is so pathetic! It's really sad, rather than funny.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Is this almost a nostalgic impulse?

John Cage Oh very, very-everyone responds that way

Nicholas Zurbrugg Is this something that interests you, capturing or referring to elements of the past?

John Cage Well, it wasn't part of my intention, but it's certainly the effect of having made that choice.

Nicholas Zurbrugg What led you to do it?

John Cage Well, I was thinking about what kind of sound should go with the singers. And I had moved

away from percussion and instruments, particularly the winds, brass and strings. And when I had just the pianos and the voice effects, I found that I wasn't really expressing the nature of the opera, which is so rich. And then it occurred to me that a recording of opera would do the trick.

Nicholas Zurbrugg These are recordings of operas?

John Cage They're recordings of operas, so that you get the orchestral accompaniment without the instruments. Then I realized that the CD recording would not represent opera as it was in the nineteenth century. And then it seemed to me that the machine should be an earlier machine, and that was how things arose.

Nicholas Zurbrugg I suppose there's a slight irony, because elsewhere you say that you don't really like listening to records.

John Cage No, I don't. But I enjoy listening to 78s, and particularly when you have twelve going at once! I can't tell you how beautiful it is!

Nicholas Zurbrugg And I suppose that's not really a familiar nostalgic experience. I wonder how many people ever listened to twelve 78s at once? John Cage Well, it's very beautiful. The scratcheseverything, everything-is just beautiful.

Nicholas Zurbrugg What about other media? Have you ever been tempted to work with video, or with film? John Cage Recently I've done some film using a fixed camera, rather than a mobile camera, in relation to the playing of a game of chess. So that the camera could be, say, on the ceiling, and focused directly on the chessboard. And then all the various things that can be changed with the camera can be effected by means of a person operating it from a ladder.

What interested me in film, I think, more than anything else, is making it economic. I don't like the wasting of film that is so popular amongst filmmakers, and I don't like the wasting of film on the part of photographers. I think if they click, they should click at the right time! I don't know what they do, but they make something like a hundred clicks in order to get one photograph. I think that's reprehensible. In view of the complexity of the material, there should be greater economy. So, I use every frame.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Does that mean it only takes as long to make the film as the film 's duration'

John Cage No, it takes longer, because I edited the frames with chance operations.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Was this accompanied by music or by sound?

John Cage No, I used the sound of the board and of the conversation of the people. But that also was fragmented.

The result is very interesting, and you don't need further sound, or to have any instrumental music. You can have just the ambient sound. The other thing I like is the case of video. I think it must be video rather than film, though I'm not certain. But I have an interest in making-and I have a little experience now in making--either one or the other with shadows. I begin with a studio-with an empty studio, with lights in it. I noticed this in a television studio in the Boston area where I was asked to do something. When I went into the empty studio there were all these lightsand they were on, and they of course not only produced light, but they produced shadows, of themselves. And these were fascinating. And I contemplate making a film, a long film, to project that material and shadows.

Nicholas Zurbrugg I imagine multiple shadows and overlaps would probably interest you.

John Cage Oh yes, very much. And that can have music, or not. I think I would use instrumental music again-not just ambient sound. At least, I've been asked by the West German Radio that if I make such a film to make also a piece of music of the same length so that it could be with the film, or independent of the film.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Would you think of adding language or vocal sound-would that be another possibility?

John Cage That would be, yes. I'm also now involved in making a short piece for chorus for a high school. I don't really like chorus, because a group of voices becomes something other than single voices. What's beautiful about the voice, it seems to me, is the uniqueness of each voice. But I'm told that the children have no security in keeping a pitch unless they do it as a group. I think I'll use vocalisation-in other words, vowels and consonants. I don't think I'll use a text, but rather make one out of vowels and consonants, which will come close to what I'll be doing for my own solo situation. There are twenty-four children, and I can't give them twenty-four parts, which would be what I'd want to do, so I'll have to give them just four parts. I don't know what else to say, except that it will be a short piece and it will be between five and seven minutes. So it will simply be another piece, such as the ones I'm writing now, written with chance operations, silences and sounds.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Returning to film and video, have you done any collaborative work with Nam June Paik at all?

John Cage I've only worked at Nam June's request to make a film some years ago. The interesting part of it was that we played this silent piece having recourse to a map of Manhattan, chosing three different places to go, to listen to the ambient sound. One was on the upper left Eastside, the second on the upper Westside, and the third was near the United Nations building which we reached at the evening as it was getting dark.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Do you find any correspondences between his work and the work you are doing' I saw a recent video piece he did called Living With The Living Tbeater-it seemed to be a relatively biographical piece.

John Cage I find Nam June's work, as you say, often biographical, or close to his changing likes and dislikes. I saw a beautiful exhibition at La Jolla of sculptures both outside and inside the building. Quite a number of other people too, seem to enjoy putting sculptures in unlikely spots, where there is rubble and other things. This was a selection of Buddhas as far as I recall! Sometimes there 's a kind of violence in Nam June 's work-you find the same kind of violence in Zen-of the monk picking up a cat and a knife in one hand, saying, 'quick! a word of truth, or I slit the eat's throat'.

Nicholas Zurbrugg This would be something that you don't sympathise with?

John Cage No, it frightens me.

Nicholas Zurbrugg I think you said once, when we were talking generally about William Burroughs's work, that you found it tended to be more critical than affirmative so far as you were concerned.

John Cage Something like that. Though I find his painting now quite lovely. I enjoy it.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Are you surprised that you are doing more graphic work?

John Cage I'm doing more work-yes-in that field. I might have been surprised some time ago, but now I've been doing it for so long I'm no longer surprised!

Nicholas Zurbrugg Has anything particularly surprised you lately, that you've been doing?

John Cage Well, the film and video certainly are surprising. In the watercolours I've reached the point of using smoke and watercolour, and that still fascinates me. The paper on which I make watercolours is smoked, and what I enjoy now is the ambiguity between smoke and colour. I like to make a surface where you can't tell whether I did it, or whether the smoke did it.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Do you smoke the paper yourself?

John Cage No, I have other people do it. When I work with the people in San Francisco, in relation to etching, they smoke the paper in their different ways. And the people who help me in Virginia smoke paper in larger groups of people, smoking enormous amounts of paper with big fires. They wet the paper first, and they smoke it over a fire, and then they put out the fire, which increases the smoke. It goes from small to large, and when it gets t o large, it's quite an undertaking-the water involves hoses, and the fire involves six people.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Does this mean that you are making very big graphic works?

John Cage I made one that was thirty-four feet long. You know that I draw around rocks. The rocks for some works are very large—as large as this small coffee table—and had to be lifted by other people. When I do these things, like the smoking of paper and the lifting of heavy rocks, it requires a great deal of help. I would be unable to do it alone, and in recent years, my use of the computer is such that I couldn't do it alone. And now I have the desire—when I finish the Freeman Études—to become my own assistant. I want to learn to work in such a way that I don't need help to do it.
Formerly, before the technology changed, I was able to be my own assistant. And it's only in recent years, and because of the computer and so forth, and these other things like film and video, that I have had assistants. Now my tendency is to want again to work alone, but in a new technology.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Do you find that having an assistant is useful, as a process of learning a new technology?

John Cage Yes, I'll have to be helped. But I would like to get to the point of not needing to be. What I mean by that is that I want to get to the point where I use my head about what I'm doing, rather than other people's. Because inevitably the work changes if there's someone else. Another thing I've been doing lately is making what's called new 'edible drawings'. And those come out of an awareness that everything is ‘C’, 'H' and ‘O’ [carbon, hydrogen and oxygen], and that paper could be edible. So I made the first series of edible drawings—we don't eat them, we look at them. Because it's paper, they're dried out. So, I suppose, as we do with beans or rice, we could take my paper if we were hungry, and we could soak it and then eat it.

Nicholas Zurbrugg But I suppose there wouldn't
have to be a drawing on the paper?

John Cage Well, this hasn't a drawing on it. All it has is a recipe with different materials that are edible. And they arrange themselves. I don't do anything about that. In the paper-making process it becomes something interesting.

Nicholas Zurbrugg You mean the recipe is written on the paper, or the paper is made of the ingredients?

John Cage The paper is made of the ingredients, which follow a recipe, which is chance determined!

Nicholas Zurbrugg What sort of recipe, and what sort of ingredients?

John Cage Well the ingredients are either fibres, such that they effectively make paper which will hold together, or they're what we call additives, like saffron, which simply add colour. It does something similar in food—in food recipes. We are able with that distinction, between fibre and additives, to make recipes. And I've made two editions—one of food that can be found in a store, and which is more or less macrobiotic, and food which is wild, and growing in the country.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Have you eaten any of these drawings?

John Cage I haven't eaten them, but I've looked at them.

Nicholas Zurbrugg What led you to make them?

John Cage What led me to do this is the remark I made in my diary, How to improve the world (you will only make matters worse). I wrote that diary by chance—determined numbers of words. I had numbers of words that I could compose, and say I had something with five words, then I had to wait until such an idea occurred to me, and then I would put it where the five words belonged. Anyway, in that frame of mind, I made a remark to the effect that it would be good to have edible paper so that instead of throwing away our junk mail, we could eat it for lunch.
And that came from the awareness that the very poor people in Chile collect thrown-away newspaper, soak it during the night, and eat it for breakfast. It seems a waste of 'C', 'H' and 'O' (if everything is that, which it is) it seems a waste of material, if all we do is throw it away. We should be able to eat it with pleasure. I don't mean with poverty—with pleasure! And the inks we use on our junk-mail should be tasty!

Nicholas Zurbrugg So books should say, 'Printed on edible paper, with gastronomic ink'.

John Cage Yes—that's the general raison d'être!

Nicholas Zurbrugg You've mentioned conditions in Chile. Do you find as an American, that European or South American cultures are radically different and remote from American culture? Some European critics have said that Europe seems to lag behind American culture, so that the two cultures can't really overlap.

John Cage I think that people who live in the United States, who have been to Europe, and who then go what we call 'South of the Border'—to Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina—have a feeling of going to something that is related to Europe more than it's related to us, even though our economic relation to South America is reprehensible. I remember going in Rio de Janeiro with a Brazilian, and when we passed by the United States embassy, he said, 'There is the capital of Brazil'. Which is a shame. When I was a child in high school I wrote a lecture called Other People Think—it’s about our relation to South America. My idea was that if we could stop our factories, and stop ourselves from talking for a while, we might be able to hear what South Americans thought of us, and then we might change our ways.

Nicholas Zurbrugg So you accept and recommend the possibility of understanding other cultures?

John Cage Yes. I wish the United States as a whole were more silent in regard to the rest of the world. But particularly now, in what's called the Gulf Crisis, we seem to be just jumping into a police situation thinking of ourselves as powerful police, even though our dollar has sunk in value. We’re poor police.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Do you ever worry that you might be regarded as a sort of cultural police inspector?

John Cage Oh, I hope not.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Does it disturb you if people seem to be excessively influenced by your work?

John Cage Well, I've warned them- 'Get out of whatever cage you find yourself in'. But then, as we said earlier, we're in an air situation- we're responding to connections that are in the air, that set us going. And

any optimism that we have, comes not from the United States, or South America, but rather from the awareness that we live on the same globe, and that we're all living in the same place. And our optimism comes largely from the diminution of the differences, maybe keeping the differences, but eliminating the power differences.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Some people would say that the eliminations of differences is sometimes negative. For instance, when you see the McDonald's signs on the top of one of the largest buildings in Geneva, that seems to offer a rather facile one-world identity.

John Cage Yes, we don't want that-in fact, that is a new difference, don't you think? And also the Pizza Hut in Moscow, and Karma Cola in India.

Nicholas Zurbrugg In other words, you're thinking of more positive forms of interconnections or interpenetrations of influences?

John Cage Yes. If you go into a large airport you see a very cosmopolitan global situation.

Nicholas Zurbrugg You don't find that a little bit limiting, insofar as cosmopolitan culture seems at odds with national identity?

John Cage No-well, we agreed on the word 'nostalgic' for the Victrola. And we can have a nostalgia for the differences between people. But we can also welcome the doctrine of everybody having all the same things. I think that the big difference that we must get rid of as soon as possible, besides the getting rid of the nation, is getting rid of the richness and poverty. And we must have some kind of credit system so that everybody has what he or she needs. In the present situation, you might hesitate to give everybody what they need, because you think they're all so greedy. But they won't be greedy if they have at least an approach to what they need. Now people don't have an approach to what they need, if in Chile they have to gather up wastepaper, in order to survive.

Nicholas Zurbrugg A final general question might be that of the function of the avant-garde. In one of your interviews you comment that we need the avant-garde, because without the avant-garde we wouldn't have invention.

John Cage Yes, I said that, and I more or less concur with it! I am, after all, the son of an inventor, so I continue that way. It's not as easy for me to get around as it has been in the past, but I'm still kicking, and I try to make a discovery if I can.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Many critics of the avant-garde claim that there can no longer be an avant-garde, or that the avant-garde is dead, because things which are seen as inventive are taken up by the mass-media, in the sense that somebody like Laurie Anderson may once have seemed avant-garde, but now appears more of a pop star. So it's argued that it's not possible any more to make-as it were-a creative splash.

John Cage Well, we can always make a discovery, or at least, we think we can. I remain more alive when I make some kind of discovery, than when I am doing the same thing over and over. It's harder for me to write the Freeman Etudes-it's more tedious than it is to write the piece which I haven't yet written. I breathe better, doing something I don't know how to do.

Nicholas Zurbrugg So the Freeman Etudes is a little too familiar?

John Cage Oh yes! I have to make a schedule, to force myself. We should say that the musicologist who has helped me with the Freeman Etudes- I admire him very much- is James Pritchett.

Nicholas Zurbrugg What is the relation do you think between invention and tradition-between doing things one doesn't know, and the whole domain of the past?

John Cage It's a question of placing your attention, either on the making of something that you don't know, or occupying yourself with something that is known.

Nicholas Zurbrugg The two realms may be antithetical at one point, but do you see them as being compatible?

John Cage I don't know quite how to answer that except with reference to an experience I had here in Switzerland, in Schaffhausen, a town near Zurich. And there- as there are in other places-is a factory which is turned into a museum, just as churches are turned into night-clubs! And the top floor of the one in Schaffhausen is devoted largely to the work of Robert Ryman. Some of the top floor is also for Sol Lewitt. The work of Ryman I was not familiar with, until I saw this retrospective show. And it was amazing to see what had happened to his dedication to white. I loved formerly the white painting-it was called 'white writing'of Mark Tobey, who also died here in Switzerland. But the development- or his life with white-that Robert Ryman made, is amazing. The different materials on which he puts white, and the different ways in which he does it, are just extraordinary. And I came away from that exhibition with a renewed sense of joy, and even a joy close to a change of mind.

Nicholas Zurbrugg So in a sense, his labour in a new area becomes a source of renewed sustenance.

John Cage And the discoveries don't give you a sense of the loss of the ability to discover, but rather, an intensification of that. So that the work, rather than contemplating itself, contemplates what hasn't yet been done. So that it 's not just a process of something becoming known, or of increasing the known-it increases the unknown at the same time!

Nicholas Zurbrugg I was thinking about your work with James ]oyce's texts, and the way in which your work with such texts both generates new writings and creates a bridge with the past, recontemplating previous work. Are you perhaps more interested in the next domain-the domain of the new?

John Cage Well, I like them both-I'm delighted with Finnegans Wake.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Is there anything else that you'd like to add?

John Cage I don't know. The only other idea I've had recently is with regard to the drawing around stones, or the painting around stones. I'm now, in recent works, making another idea about that, so that one doesn't draw completely around the stones, but is restrained because this other idea is superimposed on the stones, and forbids going all the way round, resulting in a kind of fragmentation.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Do you think that this interest in superimposing entire or almost entire forms, and fragmentary forms, leads to a general sense of fragmentation or confusion? Or does this lead to a renewed sense of assimilation, or to something else?

John Cage I don't know. In my case, it's leading to this ambiguity between smoke and water colour. So that rather than having any strength in the affirmation of something, your action becomes invisible, or not clearly visible, through the fragmentation.

Nicholas Zurbrugg Would you worry if critics suggested that this is symptomatic of a sense of doubt?

John Cage I think they said that about Joyce, something about doubt-don't they say it about Wittgenstein'

Nicholas Zurbrugg Presumably, one might say that there's good doubt and bad doubt. If there's terminal doubt that leads people to stop doing things, then I'd be inclined to call that bad doubt. Whereas if it's productive, then it might mean, 'I doubt, therefore I am'. So the process of asking questions or stressing ambiguities might be a way of tentatively demarcating unexplored possibilities?

John Cage Right.

Nicholas Zurbruggn Am I putting words in your mouth?

John Cage No, that's good.