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Cage Abandons Random Style

Norton Lecturer Answers Audience Questions in Seminar

By Nara K. Nahm

Composer John Cage, who is this year's Eliot Norton visiting professor of poetry, has a reputation for lectures that many find incomprehensible.

But at a seminar at Paine Hall yesterday, Cage was down-to-earth and direct about his conception of music and performance.

To complement each of his six experimental lectures--readings of random word combinations--Cage holds seminars a week later to answer questions about his life and work. Yesterday, the 76-year-old artist told about 150 people his views on topics from politics to the best way to handle enthusiastic fans.

"My music can be a metaphor of society," Cage said, adding that it represents a society "in which we would be willing to live."

Cage described his utopia as one with no leader and pointed to a recent composition for the Boston Symphony Orchestra as an example. The piece, which will be performed in April, calls for the conductor to act as a "coach" during rehearsals but not to conduct during performances, he said.

Cage is known for his composition "4:33." in which the only sound is the environment in which the piece is "played."

One participant asked Cage what he does when fans grow too affectionate. He said when members of a Milan audience walked on stage and began to kiss him several years ago, he simply ignored them until they returned to their seats.

He added that the theater had mistakenly billed him as a rock star.

Although Cage recalled the story with humor, he added that he frowned on unplanned interruptions.

"I would not dream of making sounds or actions where something else is being performed," he said.

Cage's seemingly haphazard style of lecturing has created similar problems for him during his stay at Harvard.

While he was delivering his lecture last Wednesday, a woman walked on stage and drank a glass of water set aside for him, according to Sally Gaskill, a tutor in Mather House who organizes the lectures. She said Cage ignored the woman, who eventually returned to her seat.

In another disturbance during one of Cage's earlier lectures, a cassette player went off and played "some kind of rock music," said Professor of Music Reinhold Brinkmann. The machine was eventually turned off, and no one tried to find out who was responsible, Brinkmann said.

Cage's lectures are readings of strings of phrases randomly assembled by computer out of sources Cage selects. The program is based on the "I Ching" principle, taken from an ancient Chinese text on the mechanisms of chance.

Cage also has an exhibition of paintings on display at the Carpenter Center.

After the seminar, Cage said his lectures have "no message." "It is writing that comes from ideas but is not about them," he said. "But it produces ideas that are not intended by me."

As the Eliot Norton Lecturer for the year, Cage delivers six lectures. He joins the ranks of T.S. Eliot '10 and Leonard Bernstein. Last year's lecturer was Yale literary critic Harold Bloom.

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