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Tightening the Screws and Opening Up the Cage : Music: There's no telling what will emerge at the tribute to the innovative composer, who left instructions for hardware to be used on the piano.


Like the piano at a John Cage concert, be prepared: If your classical gamut runs a straight line from Corelli to Corigliano, tonight's program at the Fullerton Museum Center may turn your musical world on its ear.

But hey, take a chance--that's what Cage, whose music will be featured and whose artistic decisions were often based on chance, would have advised.

"The whole thing is a big unpredictable event, everything from who's going to be there to what's going to happen on stage," said pianist Alison Edwards. "Musically, it'll be full of surprises without me even trying. That's the way Cage set it up. My hope is that the screws will stay in the piano without popping out and beaning somebody."

Edwards, whose program includes selections from Cage's Sonatas and Interludes (1946-48) for prepared piano, wasn't speaking figuratively.

"We'll be putting in a myriad of screws, bolts and rubber pieces on 45 different strings inside the instrument," she said. "Cage has given specific instructions as to large screw, medium screw, small screw. Depending on the length of the screw, a different sound is produced. It promises to be not only a musical and artistic experience, but also a real fun evening."

The concert is part of "Citycircus," a regional tribute to Cage offered in conjunction with "Rolywholyover A Circus," an exhibition of works by and about the late composer-artist at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles through Nov. 28.

That the event is taking place at all was strictly a matter of chance.

"Mr. Cage randomly picked (Southern California) arts organizations and institutions to participate, and the Fullerton Museum happened to be one of them," said Kelly Hamm, program assistant at the museum. The institution is the only one from Orange County among 25 arts and educational organizations taking part in the tribute.

Edwards, 30, a member of the piano faculty at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana, also will perform Cage's "In a Landscape" (1948), "Water Music" (1952) and a piece by a composer working today who might have been influenced by Cage--at least that's a chance the pianist is willing to take--"Entropic Rondo" (1992) by Brian Kehlenbach. Percussionist Paul Greenhaw will join her for Cage's "One 4."


Cage, who died of a stroke last year just prior to his 80th birthday, is to some the most influential American composer of this century. He delved into chance operations and introduced non-traditional methods of producing sound into his music in the early '50s; in "Water Music," for example, the performer is required to pour water and blow whistles.

"Cage made the point, the good point, that anything can be considered music," Edwards said. "It truly is in the eye or ear of the beholder. Every noise has a pitch, so where's the dividing line between noise and musical pitch?

"I'm drawn to Cage because of the freedom he's given to performer and performance," she added. "For me as a pianist, he has opened up the instrument to a new range of sounds. It's as if somebody had handed me a new palette of colors I'd never seen before."

She also appreciates the effect that Cage's Eastern philosophies--he was a practicing Buddhist and kept a macrobiotic diet--seems to have had on his music.

"When you're dealing with music, you're dealing with the present," Edwards said. "Listening or performing, your perspective is changed; previous attitudes go out the window.

"When I perform music by Cage, the present moment is even more vivid. I'm much more involved, for instance, with silences in music. I also know for certain that not everything is going to come out as I planned it, and while that's true in any performance, in the music of Cage I have to train myself to be much more open to that experience."

Edwards offered advice to anyone who might dismiss music for screws and whistles out of hand.

"They should be willing to change their perspective, at least for a moment," she said. "Because that's what art is there for--to help us to see things in a different way. (In that sense,) Cage is certainly as legitimate as somebody who follows the middle path."

* Pianist Alison Edwards will play music by John Cage tonight at 8 at the Fullerton Museum Center, 301 N. Pomona Ave., Fullerton. The concert is a "Citycircus" event held in conjunction with the "Rolywholyover A Circus" exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. $7 to $8. (714) 738-6545.

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