Columbo, Cage, Tudor and Me
While having the pleasure and honor to work with Hal McGee in assembling the history of my early 1980’s multi cassette album project, Girls on Fire and all its other manifestations including my earlier work with Washington DC art noise bands, From Far Away Beauty and Psychodrama, I have gotten the opportunity to renew my affinity for working in collaboration especially in a band or music related setting. With this good feeling of working with Hal, I reviewed all my ‘80’s cassette albums and came away with more good feeling about one of my releases in particular, “Diary of a Shiteater.” I did this cassette album under the moniker of Girls Who Hate Their Mothers/The Chicken Fucks and in collaboration with my old bandmates in the second incarnation of Psychodrama, Brett, Rob, and Mark/Jim Taylor. “Diary of a Shiteater” is a volcanic bubble of cut up samples of songs by me, the Psychodrama guys and snippets of others out in the world. All pushed into the red even more than The Velvets' White Light/White Heat.
Hearing all this hot mess now reminded me of another work and another great collaboration also from the 1960’s, the Everest recording of John Cage and David Tudor’s realization of Variations IV. Variations IV was composed in 1963 and is considered part of Mr. Cage’s compositional Indeterminacy period. As I understand it, the composition has a graphic score with different clear plastic overlays and it is about different sounds occupying different spaces simultaneously and what happens to our perception of time and space as the composition unfolds. In 1965, as a fundraiser, Mr. Cage and Mr. Tudor performed this piece at the Feigen/Palmer Gallery on La Cienaga Boulevard in Los Angeles in 1965. The Everest recording was first released in 1966. It has since been reissued a number of times and is currently available on CD, vinyl and digital download.
The recording of this realization should have been used as the soundtrack for the gallery scenes in the 1971 Columbo episode entitled “Suitable for Framing” about the homicidal art critic who kills an art collector, steals his Degas drawing, enlists his hapless art school girlfriend to assist him with the crime and then attends an opening of a contemporary art show on La Cienaga Boulevard so he can have an alibi. The paintings on display are wild abstractions with the gallery owner holding court and thrilled that the critic has finally attended a show at her fine establishment.
The Everest recording of Variations IV has this same kind of feel. One hears a room recording of various snippets of symphonies, operas, lectures, historical dramas and folk songs from scratchy old records mixed in with the faint sounds of an art opening. A woman is explaining that the show is like a happening and that according to Mr. Cage one never hears the same sound the same way twice. Sound is always changing. Then we hear her again loudly announcing that she sold the Monet this morning. A male responds with “Show me the check, baby!” The Everest recording is broken out in 7 sections, with 5 to 15 minute excerpts from the evening’s performance according to hourly segments “ 7 pm to 8 pm, “8 pm to 9 pm” etc. until the final section which ends at 1 am with the sounds of a toilet flushing. The records and conversations are a great documentation of the early ‘60’s era: classical music trying to hold its own against rock ’n’ roll and the folk music revival, America coming to grips with the legacy of WWII as it is about to go into Vietnam, the changing attitudes about sex and marriage and the rise of modern and contemporary art as an investment product. The Everest recording of Variations IV brings all of this together as a sound cut-up par excellence.
Editor's Note From Hal McGee:
Leslie's Diary of a Shiteater cassette will soon be available on my Cassette Art Classics site on Bandcamp.
Easter Egg Preview of Girls On Fire archival site
I'm very happy to see you at EC! Great essay. Very interesting!
Excellent articke,essayCage way cool, know how about Stockhausen :)
Adam J Naworal
Welcome to the EC family! Excellent article and I too am a huge fan of Variations IV; we have it on CD.
Welcome E C Leslie,ex
Oh I remember that episode of “Columbo.” Your song “Here Comes Picasso’s Ghost” would work well there too. Always love what you have to say about Mr. John Cage!
Ha! Linda -- I will share with you that my personal copy of the Everest Variations 4 is so old, scratched, and warped, that listening to it today is a uniquely John Cage-ian experience.
C. Goff III
Ha... I'm here to assist my poor brain damaged alter ego. I think the Swami is over-loaded in the "L" portion of his brain, hmmm... that says a lot doesn't it...? Anyway, let's get it right here, not "Linda" -- but "Leslie" is the person we're trying to communicate with here. Please forgive us, and welcome to EC!
Bij deze wens ook ik U hartelijk welkom bij EC!
Thank you all for your responses and for such a warm welcome to the Electronic Cottage community-- much appreciated!
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After high school and a year in the DC noise band, Psychodrama, I moved to SF in 1982.