Saturday, January 1, 2011


Whether you are drawn to his music or not, Cage was a brilliant thinker whose words , spoken or written, never fail to intrigue and captivate the imagination. Personally I find his early pieces, especially his first String Quartet and short piano works to exhibit a great timeless simplicity and beauty, that predate the integration of Zen thought into Western Art and Lifestyle that started to flourish in the 60's, as well as the Minimalist style of music that was to become so popular in the 70's and 80's. Similarly, I find his later "Number" pieces to reflect these earlier works as a kind of mature and distilled refinement of this original conception of music. At the risk of sounding facetious, you could make the case that Cage is what Bach might have been, had he been a Haiku master …. His prolific compositional body of work certainly seems Bachian. I was boarding a plane in Seoul on my way to Kyoto for the first time in my life, when, reading a copy of the International Tribune, I happened upon the news of Cage's passing. This proved to become a synchronous event for me, as I had no idea that I would spend the next week of my life visiting numerous Zen temples and rock gardens , especially Ryoanji which was such a important touchstone for Cage's art, both musical and visual.
Lurtsema was a wonderful radio host on WGBH whose breadth of knowledge on things musical and non musical allowed him to create fascinating "themed" musical/historical programs . His show was a daily staple in New England and his warm pipes made for many a wonderful morning of coffee and listening pleasure. It still brings a smile to my face when I remember him making a unique way of appealing to his listeners during a WGBH fund raising period. Lurtsema's show , Morning Pro Musica, always began with a few minutes of birdsong that gradually faded in his theme music, and finally his own spoken greeting. During this fundraiser he made his point by starting his show with dead air for the normally prescribed time duration of the open. He followed this with the observation that this is what listeners could expect if funds were to dry up. i am sure people rushed to their checkbooks.
I had taped the first interview offered here when it occurred and listened to it many, many times. In 1994, shortly after moving to Columbia, MD. from Westerly, RI., my car was broken into and tapes including the interview were stolen. I called WGBH and spoke to some kind soul who, after hearing my plight, offered to send me a copy on cassette. When it arrived, it contained the bonus of another interview with these two men from 1993. It is also offered here. I sent, if memory serves, a check for 50$ to WGBH as a small thanks for the the kindness extend to me . If you decide to download and enjoy these remarkable conversations, perhaps you will find it in your heart to contribute to your own choice of public service.



Dan said...

I'm more familiar with some of the Cage's minimalist "followers" than with Cage himself and he's long been on my list to explore, but I haven't taken the time to poke around and find recommendations as far as the best way in. And, composers are more difficult for me than other types of musical artists because you have to think not just about which pieces to hear first but which performances. So, with all that in mind, if one were going to buy a CD of John Cage music for the first time, what one (or several) would you suggest?

Rob said...

Thank you so very much for the Cage-Lurtsema interview. It's absolutely wonderful. I too miss Robert J. and his morning program. Cage has left us so much great music. Thank you again (from Westerly RI!) Rob

Wall Matthews said...

I would start with the Mode recording of his early string quartet (, his early violin and piano composition (, and his early prepared piano pieces :,93469.html,93505.html
and especially :