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John Cage - Experimental composer who experimented with the theremin (1912 - 1992)

John Cage (1912 - 1992)

Experimental composer who experimented with the theremin

"When Theremin provided an instrument with genuinely new possibilities, thereminists did their utmost to make the instrument sound like some old instrument, giving it sickeningly sweet vibrato and performing on it, with difficulty, masterpieces of the past." Although I would like to master finding a pitch and series of pitches on my theremin, I have no desire to become the world's next Clara Rockmore -- I am much more interested in using this experimental instrument experimentally!" -John Cage



Variations V, was performed on July 23, 1965, by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company with music by and performed by John Cage, Malcolm Goldstein, Gordon Mumma, James Tenney, and David Tudor, with films by Stan VanDerBeek, and video by Nam June Paik. The theremins used (described above as 'five-foot-high antennae'), were modified theremins (see below picture),designed and built to Cage's specifications by Dr. Bob Moog. They  were positioned throughout the stage to trigger musical events when dancers passed by. The photo above shows the two dancers in the background, moving among their electrical field.

The idea of blending dance and sound in such a way however, was preceded by Professor Leon Theremin in his own dance platform, the Terpistone. Gordon Mumma was a composer and performer with the Merce Cunninham Dance Company, and has taken part in a number of performances of the piece with Cage.

"The Stage consists of two systems of electronic sensors; the first is a set of focused photocells, the second a group of five-foot-high antennae. As the dancers move about the stage they interrupt the light which falls on the photocells. the vertical antennas are capacitance devices which respond to the distance of the dancers from each other, to the proximity of the dancers from the antennas, and to the number of dancers on the stage. the changes of light intensity on the photocells, and the capacitive responces of the antennas, are both transmitted as electrical signals to electronic music 'trigger' equipment in the orchestra pit. the musicians operate an 'orchestra' of tape recorders, record players, and radio receivers which contain the sound materials composed by Cage. Before these sounds are heard by the audience they are fed into the electronic-music 'trigger' equipment. The sounds are then released to loudspeakers in the audience by the triggering action of the dancer's movements on the stage." -Gordon Mumma








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Variations V


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