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John Cage

James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet (2CD)

Label: Wergo

Format: 2CD

Genre: Compositional

In stock


*2022 stock* This work began life as a radio play in 1982, a commission from and for Klaus Schöning and Cologne’s WDR. Working on the principles of collage, Cage brought together 15 unlikely characters – Narrator, James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Vocoder, Erik Satie, Jonathan Albert, Mao Tse Tung (as a child), Henry David Thoreau, Rrose Selavy, Thorstein Veblen, Buckminster Fuller, Brigham Young, and Robert Rauschenberg – who speak together, their dialogue comprised of literal quotations, freely adapted historical materials, and lines Cage simply made up. Cage himself read all of the parts in its original broadcast, which were cast, unscripted, in a mesostic format. The work received the International Karl-Sczuka-Prize in 1982 for the most extraordinary radio work of the year. Klaus Reichert received the Wieland-Translation-Award for his excellent German translation.

In 2001, Laura Kuhn adapted this work for the stage, parsing its parts across 15 actors (13 live, 2 on tape) and placing all within a stage set by Marco Steinberg with lighting by Jim Ingalls. The sound score, conceived but never fully completed by Cage, was realized by Mikel Rouse, who also played the role of James Joyce from an electronic keyboard on the stage. Sounds are somewhat uncharacteristic for Cage in that his manuscripts suggested juxtaposing the rational with the irrational, i.e. making use of sounds that make no literal sense with respect to the dialogue with sounds that function much as sound effects, tied closely to dialogue. The theatrical version was premiered at the Edinburgh International Arts Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland, on Aug. 30, 2001, with a NY-based traveling cast that included Merce Cunningham (Satie), Rouse (Joyce), John Kelly (Narrator), David Vaughan (Marcel Duchamp), and Trevor Carlson (Brigham Young), augmented with local actors in each venue. The work was later seen in Berlin, Perth, Dublin, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. For a complete history of this work, along with the scripted text, see Alphabet Libretto, produced by and available from the John Cage Trust. The original (unscripted) text is contained in John Cage, X: Writings ’79-’82 (Wesleyan University Press, 1983).

Cat. number: WER 6310 2
1-2: Recorded at the Equitable Theater of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 29 April 1990 2-1: Recorded at the Musikhochschule Köln, 14 February 1987

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