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All the World's a Cage

Houston descends into musical chaos

In John Cage's essay "Where are we going? What are we doing?," he wrote: "Here we are. Let us say Yes to our presence together in Chaos."

Yes is the order of the day, as throughout the spring a multiplicity of musicians, actors, artists, writers and skaters will enact a special version of chaos throughout Houston in tribute to Cage, that laughing circus-master of nature. The performance project is in conjunction with the exhibition at the Menil Collection of Cage's Rolywholyover A Circus .

Cage, who died in August 1992 just three weeks shy of his 80th birthday, was a student of Buddhism and believed that his job was not so much to create music, but to help direct his audience's attention to the music and art happening continuously around them. Randomness, spontaneity and a certain Zen-master humor are key. His installation/composition at the Menil incorporates a computer programmed with the I Ching, artworks on loan from museums within a 60-mile radius of the Menil (selected with the use of Cage's numerical sequence), rocks, plants and chess sets available for use.

For the opening night of Rolywholyover, Alley Theatre actor Peter Webster and Alley sound designer Joe Pino have concocted a musical chaos for skaters, to be performed by Skate Trash, a splinter group of the Urban Animals ("They have a different style, different attitude, different T-shirts," Webster explains). Pino has set up a network of photoelectric cells spanning the corner of Mandell and Sul Ross by the museum. Every time the skaters break the beam, a computer will sample from both random sounds and Cage's work. The eight or so skaters will be in full Montrose regalia, ranging from pink fishnets "and not much else" to an Elvis covered in lights. The performances will be at 8:15 p.m., 8:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m., and last only two and a half minutes each. (Pino will then mix the three versions and they'll be available on cassette.) Webster praises the Menil for being an "elegant risk-taking museum" with "the youth of imagination to go with people as independent and free as Skate Trash."

The following night, Da Camera will present "An Evening of Cage" with pianist Brian Connelly, flutist John Thorn, the Shepherd School of Music Percussion Ensemble and mezzo-soprano Isabelle Ganz. Ganz -- who was most recently lauded for her splendid performance as the proprietress of the Cafe El Chinitas in the Houston Ballet's Cruel Garden -- may have the strongest Cage affiliation of anybody in town, for they performed and recorded together many times over the last ten years. Cage first heard Ganz perform his Aria, which she describes as one of the "seminal works for voice." The score consists of ten projected colors, which the singer must correspond to ten "vocal colors." It also focuses on spontaneity and breaking down the barrier between viewer and performer, so Ganz introduces a variety of funny business -- cartwheels, splits, playing cards with the audience -- that changes with every show. Cage was so impressed with Ganz's interpretation that he composed a piece for her, and the collaboration commenced. For the Da Camera evening, Ganz will perform Aria and Forever and Sunsmell.

This just begins the list of what Cage called the "Citycircus" that accompanies Rolywholyover. As stipulated by Cage, a telephone hotline will provide day-by-day updates about all the spontaneously evolving events at the museum and around town. The following list is partial and evolving. As Isabelle Ganz says, "Cage would have loved it."

Rolywholyover A Circus
John Cage's performance composition for museum.
January 14-April 2, The Menil Collection, 1511 Branard, 525-9400.
Electric Trash Music: A High-Speed Homage to John Cage

Performance by Skate Trash, directed by Peter Webster, sound by Joe Pino. January 13, 8:15 p.m., 8:30 p.m., 8:45 p.m., Sul Ross and Mandell (encircling The Menil Collection).

An Evening of Cage
A concert performance presented by Da Camera featuring Brian Connelly, piano; Isabelle Ganz, mezzo-soprano; Shepherd School of Music Percussion Ensemble, director Richard Brown; and John Thorne, flute.

January 14, 8 p.m. at The Menil Collection.
How to Give Instructions to a Random Partner
A collaborative performance by Glassell Core Fellows Joe Allen and John Giglio.

January 14, 6 p.m., The Glassell School, The Museum of Fine Arts, 5100 Montrose Blvd., 639-7500.

John Cage in Texas 196?
A performance action by new music composer Jerry Hunt, inspired by Cage's first Texas performance (in Lubbock), presented by DiverseWorks.

January 29, location TBA, 223-8346. $10.
Music Happens: New Compositions for Radio
A collaborative radio broadcast by the Houston Composers' Alliance and Rice Radio KTRU (91.7 FM).

March (continuing).
Cirquescopanalia: A Mix for John Cage
A presentation by the University of Houston Creative Writing Program, organized by John Harvey and Edwin Gallaher.

Games: January 29, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., The Menil Collection.
Performances: March 11 and April 1, 7 p.m. at The Menil Collection, 743-3004.
Getting It Together
A collaborative broadcast presentation by Aart Guise Ink.
February 16, 10 p.m.-midnight,
"The Avant-Garde Show," Pacifica Radio KPFT (90.1 FM).
Slides Will Be Shown (A Chance Collaboration)
A presentation by Walter Hopps, curator at the Menil.

March 3, 7 p.m., Lawndale Speakeasy, Lawndale Art & Performance Space, 4912 Main St., 528-5858.

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