A review of Rrose to the Occasion by John Cage and Thomas Wulffen

Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane

Rrose to the Occasion
By John Cage and Thomas Wulffen
Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp No.8
Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2012
ISBN: 9783869843858

When, in September 1984, John Cage came to Berlin to give a concert at the Akademie der Kunste in the Tiergarten, Thomas Wulffen, then a young journalist and now a prominent art critic, took the opportunity to speak with him.

This book contains a transcript of their conversation and Wulffen also writes engagingly about his initial discovery of, and youthful enthusiasm for Cage. And about what the composer means to him still, some twenty odd years after his death. He remains the avant-garde artist, fearless and implacable, radical and humane, possessing a diamond integrity yet somehow childlike. His responses here show us a man with an insatiable appetite for experience and an endless curiosity about the world; his enthusiasm for the computer makes it clear that he would have embraced the internet and the promise it holds. The remark that jumps out at you is this one:

I don’t know who I am. I try to become, each day, someone I dont know.

It catches your eye because it ties in so closely with the man’s artistic practice. Cage wrote once that chance (the use of aleatory procedures in composition) liberated him ‘from what I had thought to be freedom and which actually was only the accretion of habits and tastes.’ He abhorred whatever was consistent and predictable, hence his difficulties with German (though not only German) organisers, alluded to here. His creative ambition was to always transcend himself, and clearly this was for Cage an existential (spiritual) aspiration too. Fanny Howe’s thoughts on bewilderment are not a million miles away:

What I have been thinking about, lately, is bewilderment as a way of entering the day as much as the work…

Rrose to the Occasion is a valuable document of record. Cage will always, it seems, have the power to provoke.

About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com