[20. Kuan / Contemplation (View), Six in the Fourth Place, Nine in the Fifth Place, Nine on Top. Changing To: 16. Yü / Enthusiasm.]
Another post from the dog days of summer as the heat wave finally made its way to Los Angeles. Today I’m reading through Cage’s monumental “writing through” project on the ever complex Joyce text, Finnegans Wake. As I mentioned last week, much like “Empty Words,” this is a performative text, and Cage’s most famous performance of the piece was in conjunction with the 1979 Merce Cunningham Dance Company collaboration collectively known as Roaratorio. This work combined dance with a collection of sounds Cage recorded in the Irish countryside of sounds mentioned in Joyce’s text, Irish ballads, jigs and other instrumental music and, finally, Cage himself reading through the second writing through.
The piece was revived last year for the MCDC legacy tour, and I had happened to be in New York during the final rehearsals, and managed to pop in at Westbeth to see a run-through, sans music. The effect was just as wonderful as the multimedia event, the hot summer sun of New York blazing in the background while the dancers rehearsed the steps in the crowded top floor studio. Mark Swed, who was with me at the rehearsal, felt that the legacy revival was not as strong musically because they chose to project the sounds with eight loudspeakers rather than hire live musicians for the performance, as they had done for earlier productions. But alas, I was unable to see the final live show, and thus I cannot say one way or another.
Cage’s preface for “Writing through…” is extensive, and he explains the process involved with choosing a full acrostic technique for the second writing, which limited the page length to a manageable amount of material, and overall his comments on Joyce are in my mind rather vague when compared to those on Thoreau. Nevertheless, there are plenty of literary parallels to be made between the two artists, as Marjorie Perloff and others have done.
I’ll keep this post short, but suffice to say I find the recorded performance of Roaratorio just as much if not more interesting than the printed text; combined with music and outdoor sounds, the collage is far more lush and interesting than the printed words on the page, or the solo voice performance on its own. But I’ll take it in any form, especially in this heat.