[38. K'uei / Opposition, Unchanging.]
His earthy contentment GETS EXPRESSIONWhen two or more bullfrogs trump
together, it isit is a ten-pound-tenthe together, IT Is a ten-pound-
ten noteTheir hand-organs remind you of the wild beasts those which reach h
im there stir much more
I must say I am rather surprised by the latest I-Ching streak of unchanging hexagrams; this is the third week in a row where I have not received a single changing line in my coin tossing. In the prior 41 weeks of this project I have only had about four or five unchanging hexagrams – perhaps this is an indication of the comfortable concluding arc of this project? Or perhaps, just as likely, it is yet another example of a localized streak according to randomness or chaos theory…
Today is the first discussion of American transcendentalist author and poet Henry David Thoreau. I am reading through one of Cage’s first nonsyntactical texts, “Mureau,” a morphing of the first syllable of “Music” with the second syllable of “Thoreau.” The essay is a compilation of phrases and syllables from Thoreau’s massive personal journal, published in 1962. The poet Wendell Berry first introduced Cage to the journal in 1967, and as Cage famously noted soon afterward, “reading Thoreau’s Journal, I discover every idea I’ve ever had worth its salt.”
Cage applied familiar methods for assembling his text: a compilation of a specific gamut of remarks from the journal about music, silence, and sounds subjected to “chance procedures” (again it would take many hours of extensive study in the archives to determine the specific method, but rest assured it was complex and detailed), arranged in a dense block justified layout on the page. There are only a few fonts, but Cage compacted many phrases, overlapping sections and “varying the personal pronoun” to bridge each remark in a constant stream-of-thought layout.
This is first and foremost a performative piece; reading the text is difficult, the fonts are hard to read clearly, and anyone trying to extrapolate any sense of continuity will soon be lost in the beautiful clutter. But of course that is not the point; this work, like many others, is a piece meant to be performed, and Cage’s 1972 recording is in my mind just as valuable as the text itself (Courtesy, once again, of UbuWeb):
Setting the text aside for a moment, I find it interesting that Cage first encountered Thoreau not through his seminal works such as Walden or Civil Disobedience, but rather through the journals, a massive collection of over two million words he kept for over 24 years. By 1967 Cage had already embarked on his “diary” project, and he was primarily inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s massive Dymaxion Chronofile, a ridiculously extensive work of obsessive compulsive disorder that documented every aspect of his life every 15 minutes from 1920 to 1983. I’ve perused this outrageous chronology at Stanford before (bound in hundreds of volumes along the wall behind the reference desk), and he quite literally scrapbooked every note, memo, piece of junk mail, etc., creating what many have called the most documented life in human history.
Many of Thoreau’s journal entries, especially later in life, were directly related to his work as a land surveyor of his township, and the journal is as much a naturalist account of environmental ecology as it is a personal memoir. Thus the prose was rife with quotable observations on the sounds of nature. Here are a few good excerpts from later years (the entire journal can be found for free HERE):
Wednesday April 9, 1856. 8 A.M. – By boat to V. palmate Swamp for White birch sap
…I hear the note of a lark amid the other birds on the meadow. For two or three days, have heard delivered often and with greater emphasis the loud, clear, sweet phebe note of the chickadee, elicited by the warmth…in a leafy pool in the low wood toward the river, hear a rustling, and see yellow-spot tortoises dropping off an islet, into the dark, stagnant water, and four or five more lying motionless on the dry leaves of the shore and of islets about…a gun fired at a muskrat on the other side of the island towards the village sounds like planks thrown down from a scaffold, borne over the water. Meanwhile I hear the sap dropping into my pail. The birch sap flows thus copiously before there is any other sign of life in the tree, the buds not visibly swollen.
I really cannot stress just how exhaustive this journal is; Thoreau literally recorded everything around him, the text follows a comfortable rhythm, and after a gentle perusing one slowly develops the true essence of transcendentalism; this is not a self-serving obsessive compulsive act, it is a naturalistic account of the reality surrounding Thoreau; it has little if anything to do with him personally, with his emotions, thoughts or ideals, and everything to do with the literal surroundings. It is as if Thoreau were documenting with a 360 camera the world around him; not from any particular perspective, but as a silent observer performing, as Cage would most certainly have agreed, 4’33” on an endless loop.
I am very much a naturalist and admittedly biased in this respect, but I feel there are very clear connections to make between Thoreau’s journal entries and Cage’s aesthetic of silence. Thoreau is not attempting to impose anything in these entries, he is performing an act that Cage aspired to in the aesthetic of Silence; a moment of unmediated perception with the world around him, unbiased or beyond the human sensory perception; in essence, a transcendental act.
TEAR TO PIECES WHIle they charmu
sreduce thrilling sphrre music to a wail sounds they should hear if the
y were below t Wind comes to wake up the trees r It sounds LIKE MOCKer
y to cheat usbut no sound so brings round summerhe contemplates God’s voice