Famous for introducing randomness in his musical compositions, the avant-garde composer John Cage took his talents to the next logical step when he delivered the first of his six Norton lectures in almost entirely randomly arranged phrases.
After a brief introduction, Cage jumped into a nearly two-hour presentation filled with such passages as: "we are criticized by how much Washington will pay to buy a man in the future" and "but really music not wings becoming every day close not that way."
The diverse textual sources for the narrative, Cage said, ranged from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake to a recent copy of The New York Times. After selecting a number of excerpts from the various sources, he said he fed them into a computer and "chance operations were used."
"In the language that appears, syntax may appear or not. All six lectures have been planned in detail, but I don't know what they'll be. I'll find out by writing them," Cage told the Sanders Theatre audience before beginning the narrative.
The unique presentation evoked a wide range of responses among the audience of more than 500. Some sat entranced by Cage's words; others grew impatient and walked out. Although nearly one-fourth of the audience had left the lecture hall when Cage completed the presentation two hours later, those who remained applauded steadily for well over a full minute.
The Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry for 1988-89, the 76-year old Cage joins such greats as T.S. Eliot and Leonard Bernstein in giving the lectures.
"[Cage] has written world music history," said Professor Reinhold Brinkmann of the Music Department, who introduced the speaker. "He is a true figure of integration of Western and Eastern culture."
In his introduction, Cage described in poetic terms the process of choosing the book and newspaper excerpts to be compiled by a computer for the lecture. "It is as if I am in a forest, hunting for ideas," he said.