Men hummed like whales and 14 harps plucked in and out of unison last Friday at YU Contemporary. It was—or would have been—John Cage’s 100th birthday. YU arranged a collection of Cage's music; with multiple performances happening throughout the YU building, it turned into a four-hour festival. As an ode to an artist devoted to the challenging, and the new, it was hard to completely know what to expect.
A 40-minute "Lecture on Nothing" turned into an 80-minute "Lecture on Nothing" (read by Oregon Symphony director Carlos Kalmar, in an intent, lilting, Werner-Herzog-y way). Performances were held on the main floor, and simultaneously on the second floor, requiring a trek up the narrow, bent stairwell, with a certain amount of anticipation every time you rounded the corner. The acoustics in the garage space of the main floor were incredible: warm and full, making you forget that you were sitting in a fairly chilly, concrete-floored garage (with debris in the corner); two men (Robert Ainsley, Kevin Walsh) performed a Gregorian-Chant-like tagteam of monosyllables in the piece "Litany for the Whale."
The event was a collaboration between FearNoMusic and a variety of other musicians. Coming up in March, YU has a few more collaborative-type plans, offering a couple lectures, both of which are technically free (from photographer Shannon Ebner and curator Benjamin Thorel).
The most anticipated event of the John Cage event was "Postcards from Heaven," which brought together 14 harpists, all arranged in a circle. Most everyone in the audience was assembled upstairs for it.
Here's thirty seconds of it:
All in all, it was a pretty magical, atmospheric night, one that bodes well for YU's programming in this new year.