Poetry & Lyrics 2017: Possessing Nothing: John Cage Song Books

10th June 2017 18:30
Hall Two, Kings Place
90 York Way, London, N1 9AG
‘To consider the Song Books as a work of art is nearly impossible. Who would dare? It resembles a brothel, doesn’t it?’ John Cage

In collaboration with Elaine Mitchener Projects, we are delighted to present an event celebrating the lyricism of John Cage’s iconic Song Books.

Published in 1970 the Song Books were written on commission for Cathy Berberian and Simone Rist. Cage consulted the I ching (the Chinese oracle book) to determine how many songs would go into each book:  56 and 34 were the responses. This left him with the ridiculous task of writing ninety new pieces for a solo singer in only three months. For each song Cage had to ask three questions and receive the answers by tossing coins and consulting the I ching. The answers would give him instructions on how to discover this solo. Both volumes are a diverse, cornucopia of innovative musical ideas, code and fragments that reconsider the lyric in an unlikely, asyntactical guise. Shards of text disrupt and distract, demonstrating his famous claim that ‘there is poetry as soon as we realize that we possess nothing’.

These songs have delighted and beguiled audiences and vocalists alike in equal measure since their first staging with their notes such as ‘perform a disciplined action’. His relationship with his Black Mountain College contemporaries such as Charles Olsen and Alan Ginsberg shines through the works. Elaine Mitchener Projects present a Cagean happening where we will wander and explore the Song Books, take our own path, ask our own questions and join the adventure.

Produced and directed by Elaine Mitchener, and featuring dancers from the Dam Van Huynh Company, composer Matt Wright and designer Brenda Mayo.

Elaine Mitchener is an experimental vocalist and movement artist whose work encompasses improvisation, contemporary composition, sound art, music theatre, physical theatre and performance art. Recent appearances include: 56 Venice Biennale, London Contemporary Music Festival, ULTIMA Contemporary Music festival Cheltenham Jazz Festival, ENO, White Cube, Café Oto, La Monnaie, Whitechapel Gallery, Hayward Gallery, Weserburg MOMA (Bremen), Wysing Arts and Hepworth Gallery.

Van Huynh Company was formed in 2008 as a creative base to support the work and collaborations of choreographer Dam Van Huynh, who was a member of the Merce Cunningham Company and worked with John Cage. As a choreographer, Van Huynh has developed his own methodology of torso division, and carved out a unique choreographic voice. His physically innovative dance language has toured to Mexico, India, South East Asia, Europe and Ethiopia. Each work is unique and explores new creative territories to engage and challenge audiences.

Matt Wright is a composer, improviser and sound artist, working at the edges of concert and club culture. As a performer and researcher, he works with turntables, laptops and surround sound installations to create post-DJ, multichannel music embracing hip hop, avant-garde and 'free' traditions His work has been performed internationally at venues including the Sydney Opera House, The Kim Ma Theatre in Vietnam, and both Tates.

Brenda Mayo is a designer & artist working with textiles and paper to create wearable sculpture or clothing amongst other creative projects. Her designs aim to capture the magic and brilliance of extraordinary cultures in highly distinctive clothes of quiet elegance, and her interest in patterns, textures and myriad colours.

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