the amplified park project
Among the projects carried out by John Cage in Italy, one remained a chimera: the sonorization of a forest on Montestella d'Ivrea: the amplified park project.
The project was born at the end of the 70's. In the month of February 1979, Cage was invited in Italy to detail the technical and educational aspects of the idea. The promoters of the initiative were Alfredo Tradardi, cultural city councilor of Ivrea at that time, and Luciano Martinengo, writer and director who had just curated Emme Edizioni's volume on Cage Dopo di me il silenzio (?) [After me silence (?)] with Franco Mogni.
Cage was accompanied by John Fullemann, the sound technician who should have assisted Cage in the practical accomplishment of the project.
The idea consisted of the installation of electronic devices on the vegetation at the top of Montestella, a hill near Ivrea, which would amplify and reproduce the sounds obtained by touching and caressing the plants. It was project conceived for the children of Ivrea's elementary schools, so that they could (re)embrace the sounds of nature.
Initially scheduled for the spring of 1979, the project was postponed in the 80's. However, due to an incredible series of unlucky circumstances it was never completed. The May 1984 Cage Festival in Turin and Ivrea was a consequence of this undone vegetetional project.
Caption: Luciano Martinengo (wearing the headphones), John Fullemann, Alfredo Tradardi (holding the umbrella) and John Cage [photo by Roberto Masotti]
Below you can read the account upon the unrealized amplified park project by Ivrea's former city councilor Alfredo Tradardi and its technical description by Cage and Fullemann (both articles were published inside the official program of the Cage 1984 Festival in Turin/Ivrea). More below, you can also find a collection of articles from some Italian newspapers focusing on Montestella d'Ivrea.
Finally, thanks to John Fullemann it is now available a detailed account of the electronic devices that should have been employed on this occasion (and on others too).
A big thanks goes to Alfredo Tradardi, who kindly shared all the materials in this page (newspapers articles, images and excerpts from the Cage 1984 Festival program), Luciano Martinengo who put me in touch with him in the first place, Roberto Masotti for the photographs and John David Fullemann for the techincal info.
CAGE, or loyalty. Ivrea's Montestella, a project for... 1985!
(from the program of the Cage Festival in Turin, May 1984, by Alfredo Tradardi)
An aged man dressed up in jeans and with a wicker basket under his arm approaches Ivrea's city hall. It's a Sunday of February 1979.
The guard, informed the previous day about the arrival of an important American personality, looks around perplexedly and wonders how to block the way to this potential intruder. His doubts are not yet cleared when he is told that the important American, composer John Cage, is actually that old man with a humble appearance and wearing odd clothes.
The big basket contains the ingredients of the macrobiotic diet he has been following for years. On his serene face, a smile of a child reveals an almost feminine gentleness: the curious expression of who can observe and listen.
Under a pouring light rain, accompanied by the inevitable city councilor of culture and other local authorities, the visit of Ivrea and its surroundings begins. The objective is to find a proper place to realize the amplified park project, the sonorization of a forest.
Caption: Survey on Montestella. From left: John Cage, John Fullemann and Alfredo Tradardi (who is testing the device) [photo by Roberto Masotti]
Together with John Cage there is John David Fullemann, also arrived from the United States: he holds some strange electronic devices. They are followed by a young director, Luciano Martinengo and a young photographer, Roberto Masotti.
The youngest however it's him, Cage, as he accurately explores every location and stops to hear the most sudden noises or the sounds flowing from afar. The San Michele lake, the old powder base, lake Sirio, Robinson park, the banks of the Dora river, the monastery behind the Olivetti plant, the villa of Salerano and finally Montestella.
In the middle of Ivrea, on top of a hill, on Montestella the sounds of the valley flow adequately muffled and it is still possible to hear the noises of the insects.
A flash of joy and belief illuminates Cage's eyes, his grin enlarges: from that moment on Montestella d'Ivrea becomes synonym for the amplified park project.
Two press conferences the day after, one in Ivrea and a second one, more chaotic, at Out-Off in Milan announce that the project will take place in May or September. But nothing happens.
Years go by and the attempts to arrange the initiative continue. John Cage repeats that he would start the project only in Montestella and remains faithful to his choice.
Five years later, once again in February, the contract is signed in New York. This time is done, apart from 'acts of God' (fatalities), which materialize two weeks later due to the unavailability of John David Fullemann, the sound technician in charge to design and prepare the devices for the project.
And John Cage, who remained loyal to Montestella but to Fullemann also, kindly and firmly informs that the amplified park project must be postponed.
Next May John Cage will be in Turin and Ivrea, but not in Montestella. A project that requires loyalty. A project for... 1985!
(from the program of the Cage Festival in Turin, May 1984, by John Cage and John Fullemann)
The technical aspects of the project are as follows:
There will be constructed 30 small electronic systems consisting of a vibration microphone, amplifier and headphone. There will allow the children to move about freely to listen to many different plants as musical instruments. The amplifier is small and light-weight, easi1y fitting into a pocket and powered by a standard 9 volt battery.
It is simpler to operate than a radio and should present no difficulties to· children of 6 years or older. The microphone and headphone are lightweight also, and while quite accurate sonically, will withstand occasional mis-handling.
There is, of course, no electrical hazard, regardless of the possible misuse or damage. The microphones and amplifiers will be constructed by John Fullemann in New York. The headphones are commercially available! Sennheiser HD:414. These could be provided from New York, but we suggest that they could be procured locally by the city.
The equipment will be the property of the city and should remain available to the children after we have gone. Though unique, we have made no attempts to patent this equipment. The city and its people are free to reproduce the units if they wish. Full documentation will be provided upon commencement of the event.
At the outset, a videotape must be made of one child introducing the project to another child: how to listen to the ambient sounds, how to operate the portable equipment, and examples of how to approach the plants. This will be available on video monitor(s) for the children throughout the project, and remain available afterwards as well. The video camera, recorder and monitor, as well as technical/administrative assistance will be provided by the city.
The third aspect of the project is the amplification for the other children or general public of the portable microphones. There will be 12 powerful amplifiers/loudspeaker units on Montestella. These should be provided by the city for at least the duration of the event. We recommend several units: Pearl SG-I01, PFT-10l; M-3 Super Gunner 150. The amplifier/speakers will be placed as follows: 5 units along the side wall of the chapel either hung from the roof rafters or installed on a scaffold midway or higher up the wall facing outwards; 3 units on a platform above the apse in the rear of the chapel facing outwards; and 4 units free to be moved about the hilltop as events dictate. Some provision for inclement weather will be necessary: perhaps plastic coverings or nightly removal of the equipment.
Caption: Survey on Montestella. John Cage and John Fullemann [photo by Roberto Masotti]
A remote muting system will be designed to provide the ability to simultaneously turn of or on all the amplified sounds. The central control system will be connected via extendable cables to a control module at each of the 12 power amplifiers. The central control and the 12 modules and necessary cables will be constructed in New York by John Fullemann.
Sufficient electricity is required for the power amplifiers; perhaps 4,000 watts at 220 volts for the amplifier models specified; and a quantity of power cable to permit the 4 mobile units to each range up to, say, 50 meters from the chapel. The cables must be sturdy enough to withstand normal abuse by the public.
Operation during the evening is not anticipated beyond available daylight, so no facilities for lighting are contemplated.
Some precautions should be taken by the city to protect the equipment while unattended, for example by a watchman.
If possible, the chapel should be opened during the day to provide a resting place or shelter from bad weather for the public, and overnight storage for the equipment. Alternately, tents might be used.
Throughout the event, a technical assistant should be available to John Fullemann, including workshop space for the eventual repairs and modifications that may develop. Familiarity with modern analog circuitry and sound techniques would be much preferred.
Milan, February 13, 1979.
John Cage and John Fullemann
Branches, Montestella Contact Mics and Cartridges
(notes by John Fullemann, October 15 2013)
I glued a ca 8x8mm piezo element on rubber blocks to a long 19mm metal strap. Another bit of strap is formed to provide shielding and protection from bushes and mishandling.
Caption: three contact microphones [photo from John Fullemann's archive]
The original 11x11mm elements were salvaged from cheap guitar contact microphones from Radio Shack, Lafayette, etc.
Nowadays piezo elements mounted on bronze plates are readily available.
The large ones, 30mm dia or more, are glorious, and seem more robust.
For Cartridge Music, , John and David used crystal piezo mono phono pickups.
When I bought them they were Astatic 12U from Ohio. They can be found on ebay for 150USD, or bought from CanadianAstatic. The piezo element is very long and firmly mounted at one end. The far end is directly attached to the needle. The output is enormous, rated at 4V for records, much more in a musicians hands. The element is very moisture sensitive and is easily destroyed.
For the metal strap I used bits of 3/4" x 1/32" banding steel used to hold shipping crates together since it was very hard and available.
Caption: John Fullemann while he sets amplification for Cacti in Paris (1978) [photo from John Fullemann's archive]
An alligator clip (various sizes) was screwed to the free end of the strap. Small cacti or other plant material are inserted into the clip.
For large cacti, insert a needle in the clip and stick the needle into the cactus. Some odd shaped cacti need two mics.
The weight of the cactus bends the strap, and you get a lot of nicelow frequencies. The length of the strap changes the resonance.
Try various lengths, 10-30cm
The piezo signal will be on the order of 100 mV or more into 10Mohm.
The Portable Amplifier
I plug the two terminals of the piezo element to a high impedance differential amp. This avoids hum and noise, even with SCR lighting.
The input Z should be 10 Meg ohm or more.
Back then I used one or three NE5534 opamps as a diff amp, followed by a LM386 headphone amplifier. It all runs on a 9V MN1604 battery.
For Montestella, we planned to used cheap Sennheiser 600 ohm open air headphones. Now there are high quality 32 ohm earbuds that are more readily available.
Caption: contact microphone [photo from John Fullemann's archive]
The Crazy Mixer
For Atlas Eclipticalis David Behrman and I built direct boxes and a 23 diff input, 6 output channel mixer. This was subsequently modified and expanded to be used as the aggregate mixer in the orchestra pit for CDCo tours and for Branches and Child of Tree.
The direct boxes consisted of a tip-sleeve phone jack, FET transistor source-follower and a cheap 1:1 transformer feeding a balanced XLR.
Each XLR input originally fed a 3x u748 differential amplifier which fed 1 of 6 mix busses via a rotary switch.
The outputs were originally unbalanced RCAs, but later XLR, buffered and API 600 ohm transformer isolated, with 6 toggle GND switches to attach the XLR (p1? shield?) to the chassis or not.
Two sets of 6 RCA aux inputs feeding directly into the mix buses accept the outputs of Kosugi and Tudors Teac mixers. In-Z = 30k.
Collection of articles about Montestella d'Ivrea
- La Gazzetta del Popolo, Tuesday, February 13, 1979
- Corriere della Sera, Wednesday, February 14, 1979
- Il Giornale Nuovo, Wednesday, February 14, 1979
- Il Giorno, Wednesday, February 14, 1979
- l'Unità, Wednesday, February 14, 1979
- Tuttolibri, Saturday, February 17, 1979
- La Stampa, Saturday, February 24, 1979
John Cage will play the trees for the children
(subtitle: the American composer of electronic music will be guest of the city to let the children of the elementary schools know his work)
(from La Gazzetta del Popolo, Tuesday, February 13, 1979, by Mariella Ottimo)
The famous American composer of electronic music John Cage, 67 years old, author of interesting experiments within music, will be most likely in Ivrea next spring to share his experience with the pupils of the elementary schools of our town.
His presence in Ivrea – explained the culture city councilor Alfredo Tradardi –
aims at being a reaffirmation of the path followed by the cultural initiatives, which tends to focus on change.
It must not be forgotten that Ivrea and its region possess a rich legacy tied to the activities promoted in the 50's by Olivetti, which transformed this area into a laboratory of cultural research and experimentation.
The project will consist of: following an idea of John Cage, that is based on the usage of plant material (such as trees, bushes and leaves) to make music by means of the electronic amplification of imperceptible sounds, the awareness of the world of sounds, rather than traditional music, is meant to be arisen. This way the well-known lacks of musical education in school will be confronted.
The core of the project is addressed to the children of the elementary schools, though any adult who is interested can participate also.
John Cage himself came to Ivrea to choose the best place to host this initiative and after a careful examination, he selected Monte Stella,
a very tranquil place – he said –
where the sounds flowing from the city do not interfere with its serenity. Moreover, it has a peculiar sonorous and acoustic quality.
Here amplifiers will be installed in order to allow the children to listen to the sounds produced while touching different parts of the plants, on which microphones will be applied. These devices could be either used individually, that is, each pupil will hear through his headphone set the sounds he is making, or more pupils could connect their microphones together and obtain a more coral sound, like an orchestra.
At the feet of Monte Stella there will be an information point with a tv screen which will explain to the little users the proper way to handle the devices. To let the children ears get used to the sounds surrounding them, silent pauses in which they can hear the sounds of nature will be alternated to the sonorous moments, that is, when they produce music.
The fundamental elements of musical experience – John Cage stressed –
are listening and the sense of time, which may not be the traditional notion of time. Their knowledge is much more important to achieve the appreciation of music, rather than just the learning of scales and solfeggio.
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John Cage will play the trees
(from Il Corriere della Sera, Wednesday, February 14, 1979, by Mario Pasi)
John Cage without beard, therefore deprived of his 'fur hunter of the new frontier' halo, is preparing another big happening: no more trains of music, but a sonorous wood. An idea that has been fully embraced by the city of Ivrea and that has been expounded during a press conference at the Out-Off cultural center in Milan, on the occasion of the presentation of the book Dopo di me il silenzio (?) [After me silence (?)], signed by John Cage, but actually a collage of essays to honor the Maestro.
However, the Ivrea project overshadowed the whole book presentation and the bearded youngsters who had gathered at the Out-Off, walking the dark alley and packing the abbey-like basement, received the invitation for a new sonorous adventure. When: end of April or beginning of June. Cost: from 6 to 10 million Lire. Where: a hilltop in Ivrea called Monte Stella that can be reached through a steep trail and that dominates the city whose noises can be there experienced. Duration: three weeks approximately.
Trees, bushes, shrubs and leaves will become sources of sounds, either prepared or natural. The children of the elementary schools, twelve kids at a time, thanks to a special set of microphones, tweezers and amplifiers, will stimulate the vegetation and will receive unexpected responses. In a nutshell: this situation could generate a liberating discourse upon music as well as a link to those who teach it. It is not only a game, but a little mystery that can be clearly placed into Cage's Californian Zen and in his perception of nature (and in his refusal of the established intellectual harmonies). This party is also opened to those adults, Cage says, that want to become children again.
Ivrea's city councilor of culture on one side and composer Franco Donatoni on the other one, described Cage as an inventor of new spectacles, insomuch to define an advanced culture, as a prophet of music and as a reference – in every sense, bad or good – for the aspirations of the upcoming generations. After, a rather abstract discussion about techniques, choices, demands and images of the future followed.
While waiting for the Ivrea event, Out-Off is organizing at the Conservatorio, a cycle of concerts for piano on the new compositional tendencies (named The entropy of music): Thursday it will be Giacarlo Cardini's turn and Saturday Antonelli Neri's. On the 24th there will be Canino and Ballista and finally on March 1st Lorenzini e Fedrigotti will perform. Many titles are naturally by John Cage.
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The voices of nature coordinated by Cage
(subtitle: the American musician will coordinate the sound direction of a concert consisting of the amplification of the sounds of the wood on top of Monte Stella – His latest book)
(from il Giornale Nuovo, Wednesday, February 14, 1979)
During the next advent of spring, the slopes of Monte Stella – a hilltop of glacial origin near the perifery of Ivrea – will throb with new life with the addition of a phonic element to the usual awakening of plants: twelve amplifiers installed on the shrubs and bushes and tuned by a trained bunch of children will gather the secret voices of nature and create with them a singular musical concert.
This new initiative was yesterday announced in the press conference at Out-Off in Milan by Ivrea's city councilor of culture, Alfredo Tradardi, and Luciano Martinengo, one of the promoters of this ecological-musical operation. The people from Ivrea however, carefully fleshed out the project with the help of John Cage, the imaginative American who is in charge of the avantgarde within the fields of aleatoric and concrete music.
John Cage participated at the meeting, answering all the questions during the presentation of his latest book by Emme Edizioni, curated by Franco Mogni, Dopo di me il silenzio (?) [After me silence (?)]: a collective work featuring essays of various experts of music.
The conference slowly shifted from the presentation of the volume and the announce of the sonorization of the wood in Ivrea, to a critic definition of the personality of John Cage, whose profile was craftily and precisely drawn by Franco Donatoni, the musician from Verona who has recently left the Conservatorio in Milan to teach composition at Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, following the traces of Respighi, Pizzetti e Patrassi.
In the same venue, another meeting announced yesterday morning four upcoming concerts organized by Out-Off together with Arci and dedicated to the latest tendencies in the music for piano entitled L'entropia nella musica (The entropy of music), a name stemming from thermodynamics. The first concert will take place tomorrow and it will feature Giancarlo Cardini in the main hall of the Conservatorio.
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Cage prepares the voices of a forest
(from il Giorno, Wednesday, February 14, 1979)
A book and a forest bring John Cage back to the public attention. The book, entitled Dopo di me il silenzio (?) [After me silence (?)] and published recently by Emme Edizioni, comprises diversely slanted essays (by Paolo Castaldi, Franco Donatoni, Sylvano Bussotti, Mario Bortolotto, Marcello Panni, Aldo Clementi, Niccolò Castiglioni, Demetrio Stratos, Gianni-Emilio Simonetti, Riccardo Bertoncelli, Walter Marchetti, Daniel Charles). The whole book is built around a long interview by Luciano Martinengo and it also testifies Cage's winning participation at quiz show Lascia o raddoppia? in 1959 as a mushroom expert.
The previously mentioned forest is located instead on the top of Monte Stella (near Ivrea), whose sonorization was commissioned to John Cage by the competent cultural council. During a two weeks period (end of April or beginning of June), anyone could walk there and take advantage of special devices (contact microphones and amplifiers) to experience alone (through headphones) or collectively (through guitar-like amps) the sounds of nature.
It is yet Cage that ties us to the series of concerts entitled L'entropia della musica (The entropy of music): the piano in the new compositional tendencies. Arci, Centro Culturale Out-Off, Radio Popolare, Telemilano 2 are the promoters of the four performances that will take place in the Verdi Hall of the Conservatorio.
Tomorrow Giancarlo Cardini will usher in the festival with pieces by Cage, the Novelletta by Bussotti, the Solfeggio parlante by Castaldi and works by Feldman, Lombardi and Stockhausen. Saturday 17, pianist Antonello Neri will perform his Microtensioni e... for piano, magnetic tape and synthetizer. Saturday 24 Antonio Ballista will present works by Cage, Castaldi, Battiato, Terry Riley. La Monte Young. Finally Thursday, March 1, the pianistic duo Lorenzini and Fedrigotti will end the series.
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Piano in the new music
(subtitle: John Cage illustrated his project of a sonorization of a park in Ivrea – concerts at cultural center Out-Off in Milan from tonight on)
(from l'Unità, Wednesday, February 14, 1979, by P.P.)
The press conference at cultural space Out-Off in Milan, that John Cage also attended, offered the chance to present a new book on the American composer, a project of the sonorization of a park in Ivrea and a cycle of four concerts arranged by Out-Off at the Conservatorio.
The volume by Emme Edizioni is entitled Dopo di me il silenzio (?) [After me silence (?)] and contains two interviews and a collection of testimonies and homages by Bortolotto, Bussotti, Calasso, Castaldi, Castiglioni, Clementi, Donatoni e Stratos among the others. Donatoni himself during the press conference recalled the sense and the ways of his own reflection on Cage's oeuvre with a brief statement which was one of the most meaningful moments of the event.
The announce of a still undefined project that should be carried out in April or in June occupied a good deal of the conference. The idea consists of the sonorization of a park (in an isolated location near Ivrea called Monte Stella); microphones, amplifiers and headphones should be essential in the project, whose purpose is to amplify the sounds of the environment and of whom is there. It should last a couple of weeks and children are supposed to be the protagonists of it.
The idea derives from the well known Cagean poetry in which every sound is music and it is not necessary to arrange it with precise intentions. Even Monday evening Cage reaffirmed his will to not make choices and capture instead every vital aspect of everyday life; he repeated his notion of experimental, that is, a process whose output is not predictable (as an example he cited the unpredictable case of the amplified noise of a caressed leaf).
Cage is one of the authors featured in the four concerts in the festival L'entropia della musica, il pianoforte nelle nuove tendenze compositive (The entropy of music: the piano in the new compositional tendencies) organized by Out-Off at the Conservatorio in collaboration with Arci, Radio Popolare and Tele Radio Milano 2. First one is today (Thursday, February 15) with pianist Giancarlo Cardini; on February 15th Antonello Neri and February 24th Antonio Ballista will follow. Last, the pianistic duo Lorenzini-Fedrigotti will end on March 1. The promoters revealed they basically let the pianists choose the repertoires which probably explains the variety of the programs, that are not all equally interesting in our opinion, even from an information perspective. It must be said that there is an informative contribution however and it will be interesting to see the result of an initiative conceived in a few months by an alternative circle in order to, hopefully, involve some sectors of the younger audience that are rarely present at the concerts of contemporary music.
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Cage: I will now make a forest sing
(subtitle: the American composer is in Italy to present a new book of his – a project of a concert with the sounds gathered in a wood in Ivrea)
(from Tuttolibri, Saturday, February 17, 1979 di N.O.)
A pencil that draws on a sheet of paper, a running train: these are often the tools employed by John Cage in his musical research, rather than flutes or violins. Sounds sought in places where we usually do not realize we are listening to them and successively amplified, reproduced and offered to an audience that only recently hasn't got indignant and has begun to hear.
In these days, his uninterrupted anxiety for new sonorous expressions led John Cage in a wood near Ivrea. Together with American electronic technician John Fullemannn, the composer is morphing it into a choir of voices. Small microphones will be installed on trees in order to amply the unsuspected sounds emitted by branches, vains and leaves when touched by humans. This way, the wood becomes an immense instrument that man can play on a ramble. The results of this experiment will be recorded and transformed into a concert.
Another reason of Cage's presence in Italy is the presentation of his book Dopo di me il silenzio(?) [After me silence (?)], published by Emme; the book is from Ivrea and it contains interview to the composer and a slew of essays upon him and his oeuvre penned by colleagues, critics, poets such as Bussotti, Adriano Spatola, Roberto Calasso, Franco Donatoni.
Between Duchamp and Wittgenstein, Buddha and Thoreau, Cage explains his approach to sound as the outcome of a precise and global existential philosophy.
It seems to me that music has the same purpose of religion, mythology, philosophy or other activities that aim at changing the spirit and the mind towards the joy of living.
In this strongly extroverted universe spaces multiply, therefore there is room for haiku poetry, Zen, James Joyce – whom he is currently analyzing – and mushrooms – his hobby – thanks to which
an economical turn in my life was possible: the 5 million Lire win at quiz show Lascia o raddoppia?. In the book there is also the transcription of the last episode of the quiz, including the question about the 24 types of agarici and white spored mushrooms and the comments of Mike Bongiorno on Cage's music.
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Cage in the woods, picking the voices of flowers
(from La Stampa, Saturday, February 24, 1979, by Nico Orengo)
A thin grove of oaks, some bushes of privet, but mostly steep rocks enclose the chapel on top of Monte Stella. Below, the sanctuary is a system of domes and volumes and down in the valley the houses in the distance barely reveal the city of Ivrea. The thin oaks and the barren bushes don't know yet, but they will become the first vegetarian orchestra in Italy, the first musical wood after the one in Vienna, that whispered his tales into Offenbach's ears.
In springtime, when the rocks will soften covered with grass, trees and bushes will bloom into buds and microphones, leaves and tape-recorders, cables, diodes and for some weeks they will 'fall prey' to the children of the elementary schools in Ivrea, who will be the protagonists of an experiment – conceived by John Cage and supported by Azienda Turismo and Ivrea's Cultural Administration – intended to raise musical awareness. The city councilor Alfredo Tradardi has arranged for 1979 a very rich program and he organized a meeting with Cage to talk about this event, which is certainly the most stunning one.
Cage, with his Little Red Riding Hood basket, the bright checked shirt and his gentle smile, seems quite at odds as he sits in the golden throne inside Ivrea's city council hall. Near him and similarly anomalous inside the room, there is a boy surrounded by an ascetic halo: he is John Fullemann, the technician who is in charge to morph trees into musical instruments. Together with Luciano Martinengo, they explain the origin and the scope of the project.
Among all the places we visited – Cage says –
I chose Monte Stella because I was struck by the way sounds flow there both from the city and from the airplanes: they are present, but they don't disturb its serenity. On top of the mountain the sound of silence is marvelous and we thought that approximately every fifteen minutes the microphones applied to the trees should be switched off for ten minutes, so that the children could hear silence. I'd like them to sense, as I felt it, a true reverence for the surrounding environment.
Twelve 'reverent' kids at a time will be instructed by a video-tape about how to wear the headphones, how to activate the microphones, but also about how to caress a blade of grass, tap on a bark and sway a leaf in order to obtain the proper vibrations, which will be transformed into sounds through the microphones. These natural modulations will be spread by twelve speakers placed around the Chapel.
Hence – John Cage adds –
the various sounds will musically blend together.
However, it seems that after climbing Monte Stella, Cage's mind is irresistibly attracted by the sound of silence rather than by the music of trees.
Listening to the sounds that soar to the top of a mountain is a striking experience. I will never forget it. The existing sounds, floating in the air. This is one of the things I'd like to emphasize with the experiment we will carry out: the act of listening. I'd like the children and the adults 'now-turned-to-children-again' to learn how to open their ears and embrace sound. The other important thing is to understand the sense of musical timing: we are too attached to rhythmic regularity, whereas we should accept instead different, irregular, arrhythmic beats.
He then tells us about other experiences of music created by natural materials, a concert with shells filled with water, adults to whom he taught how to play a wood.
But with children is going to be better, they will be less controlled and more spontaneous.
Therefore the experiment in Ivrea – twelve children and a mass of electronic devices tied together by a famous musician – becomes a possible example of the apparent cul-de-sac in which musical avantgarde seems to be stuck. While the avantgarde in literature and in the figurative arts have been trying to find a new real contact with the audience by means of a research which is not simply based on the destruction of all formal schemes, contemporary musicians seem to refuse creativity as well as professionalism, preferring spontaneity which frequently results in precariousness. Too often today concerts transform into a drama, a ring-around-the-Rosie, a gymnastic exercise where it is useless to search for music that, rarefied, tends to disappear. Now the composer relies more than ever on electronics, on the easy sounds of the computer, on the riddling pleasure of decomposing a musical phrase with the mixer or the amplifier, so that in the end the work signed by a musician is actually the outcome of a child fiddling with a synthesizer.
John Cage naturally did and will do more than this, and if in Ivrea he is making the trees sound by the children, on some other occasions he played botanical music himself.
They called it like this, botanical music, in Tokyo, when I gave an hour and a half concert with plants. In Australia I gathered some species from the botanical garden and I played them in a theater. The next day the local people began to bring me the plants they had at home in order to make them musical. Unfortunately the plants get ruined after a while, the vibrations harm them, especially the small plants which are in houses or on the balcony.
Cage is not seeking for ecological commendations then. John Fullemann, his collaborator, says with no hesitation that they are not interested in the feelings of trees.
What we are doing is not related to the attempts to measure the sensitivity of the plants, their own emotions. In this case, the word 'emotion' is a poetic term that defines a chemical reaction.
As the oaks and the privets on Monte Stella enjoy the winter quiescence waiting to be caressed and chopped by the children from Ivrea, Cage chases future projects. Sincere and indefatigable, he believes in the possibility to record the sound emanated by a blade of grass while it springs and grows, or by a bud that blossoms and becomes leaf.
We just need – he tells us with a smile on his face –
to find a very, very tranquil place, then leave the microphone open and after a while come back to pick some music.
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