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Festval: A Celebration Of The Arts : John Cage At 75

August 16, 1987

Dancers, musicians, friends and colleagues will celebrate composer John Cage's 75th birthday (Sept. 5) at a week's worth of Festival events. The Los Angeles-born "grandfather of the avant-garde" took time out from his new "Europera, Parts I and II"--a collage of European operas set to premiere in Frankfurt on Nov. 15--to talk with Festival about turning 75.

\o7 Seventy five, of course, has the five, and 70 has the zero, and the birthdays that seem to impress people are the ones with fives and zeros. No one celebrates vividly a 63rd birthday. That's a very curious thing and relates to the way people are impressed with decades--'60s or '70s or '80s.

I don't really feel any different turning 75 than turning 74. Actually, because of my notoriety and my activity around the world, it takes a long time to celebrate any one of those birthdays--generally about three years.

I'm a very poor historian. I was very impressed by a (thought) of Marcel Duchamp: to reach the impossibility of transferring from one like image to another the memory imprint. So that if you see two Coca-Cola bottles, you're supposed to reach the impossibility of remembering the first Coca-Cola bottle when you look at the second one.

You forget the first one so you see everything freshly. And that's a very important thing in our day and age when there's so much repetition. You can stay like a tourist, seeing things you've never seen before.

What I do as I get older is figure I'm here for a shorter time. So this is my chance to become interested in something I've not been interested in before. In other words, this is the time when I can place my attention on something that I've never placed it on. So my interests multiply rather than diminish.

My primary pleasure with my ears is listening to the sounds around me, wherever I happen to be. I'm never without what I call music. Thoreau had these same feelings about noise; he considered it to be music. What's so nice about these noises is that there's no regular beat. It is in fact the regular beat of your neighbor's music that is so irritating.

I want in my work not to interrupt that feeling or that experience of silence, and silence is not the absence of sounds but the presence of ambient noise. There always are things to hear. It's that kind of sound that I don't want my music to alter. I would like my music to have the character of no music.

I think people are impressed now by the fact that over the whole world there's the sound of traffic. You have to go into a very special situation to to get away from that, and in almost all cases, your escape is insecure. A plane flies over. Something happens.

(Looking toward my 80th birthday celebration), I don't think I'll have to worry about it. People will decide what to do. You know we do things in two different ways: Either we invite ourselves to do something, or someone invites us to do something. More and more, in my case, the invitations come from outside. I've left myself open so that people know that I would enjoy doing something I've never done before. \f7

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