Interpretation of John Cage’s "Indeterminacy" (1958) and "Fontana Max" (1958)
Ira S. Murfin and Stephan Moore
"Indeterminacy," Cage’s collection of personal anecdotes, was first performed in 1958 and released in a recording by Folkways in 1959. The pieces populate his collections "Silence" and "A Year from Monday" “playing the function that odd bits of information play at the ends of columns in a small town newspaper,” and he performed a rotating selection as the “irrelevant accompaniment” to Merce Cunningham’s 1965 dance "How to Pass, Kick, Run, and Fall." Alternately understood as poetry, music, and performance score, these enigmatic koan-like anecdotes have become emblematic of Cage’s style and have been frequently taken up by others, recently as a model for Bill T. Jones’ "Story/Time." The anecdotes are as often stories Cage was told, things he read, or things that happened to other people, as they are firsthand occurrences from his own life. Cage wrote, “my intention in putting the stories together in an unplanned way was to suggest that all things – stories, incidental sounds from the environment, and, by extension, beings – are related, and that this complexity is more evident when it is not oversimplified by an idea of relationship in one person’s mind.”
From “John Cage’s "Indeterminacy" Then and Now: 1992 Introduction” by Richard Kostelanetz:
"The idea behind "Indeterminacy" was, like many Cagean ideas, essentially simple, if audaciously original. In one acoustic space he would declaim any of ninety stories, taking a minute to finish each one. Thus, those with many words were necessarily read quickly; those with a few words, slowly. In another room, beyond earshot of Cage, the pianist David Tudor, by that time a veteran Cage collaborator, was playing miscellaneous sections from his parts for Cage’s "Concert for Piano and Orchestra" (1957-58), occasionally playing as well prerecorded tape from another Cage composition "Fontana Mix" (1958-59). As Cage wrote at the time, ‘David Tudor was free to make any continuity of his choice. There was no rehearsal beforehand involving both the reading and the music, for in all my recent music there are parts but no score.’”
Selections from "Indeterminacy" were performed in random order according to the original constraint that they be told in exactly one minute, alongside "Fontana Mix" (1958), performed by Stephan Moore in a separate room.
This program is cosponsored by the Departments of Art History, Art Theory & Practice, and Performance Studies; the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities; the Dance Program; and Mellon Dance Studies.