John Cage, "Indeterminacy"
stories about David Tudor

Excerpts from John Cage "Indeterminacy" from Silence, © 1961 by John Cage, Wesleyan University Press by permission of University Press of New England.

M.C. Richards and David Tudor invited several friends to dinner. I was there and it was a pleasure. After dinner we were sitting around talking. David Tudor began doing some paper work in a corner, perhaps something to do with music, though I'm not sure. After a while there was a pause in the conversation, and someone said to David Tudor, "Why don't you join the party?" He said, "I haven't left it. This is how I keep you entertained."

Two wooden boxes containing Oriental spices and foodstuffs arrived fom India. One was for David Tudor, the other for me. Each of us found, on opening the box, that the contents were all mixed up. The lids of the containers of spices had somehow come off. Plastic bags of dried beans and palm sugar had ripped open. The tin lids of cans of chili powder had come off. All of these things were mixed with each other and with the excelsior which had been put in the box to keep the containers in position. I put my box in a corner and simply tried to forget about it. David Tudor, on the other hand, set to work. Assembling bowls of various sizes, sieves of about eleven various-sized screens, a pair of tweezers, and a small knife, he began a process which lasted three days, at the end of which each spice was seperated from each other, each kind of bean from each other, and the palm sugar lumps had been scraped free of spice and excavations in them har removed embedded beans. He then called me up to say, "Whenever you want to get at that box of spices you have, let me know. I'll help you."

When David Tudor, Merce Cunningham, Carolyn and Earle Brown and I arrived in Brussels a year or so ago for programs at the World's Fair, we found out that Earle Brown's "Indices" was not going to be played since the orchestra found it too difficult. So, putting two and two together, we proposed that Merce Cunningham and Carolyn Brown dance solos and duets from Merce Cunningham's "Springweather and People" (which is his title for Earle Brown's "Indices") and that David Tudor play the piano transcription as accompaniment. With great difficulty, arrangements were made to realize this proposal. At the last minute the authorities agreed. However, just before the performance, the Pope died and everything was cancelled.

One day at Black Mountain College, David Tudor was eating his lunch. A student came over to his table and began asking him questions. David Tudor went on eating his lunch. The student kept on asking questions. Finally, David Tudor looked at him and said, "If you don't know, why do you ask?"

When David Tudor and I walked into the hotel where we were invited to stay in Brussels, there were large envelopes for each of us at the desk; they were full of programs, tickets, invitations, special passes to the Fair, and general information. One of the invitations I had was to a luncheon at the royal palace adjacent to the Fair Grounds. I was to reply, but didn't because I was busy with rehearsals, performances, and the writing of thirty of these stories, which I was to deliver as a lecture in the course of the week devoted to experimental music. So one day when I was coming into the hotel, the desk attendant asked me whether I expected to go to the palace for lunch the following day. I said, "Yes". Over the phone he said, "He's coming." And then he checked my name off a list in front of him. He asked whether I knew the plans of the others on the list, which by that time I was reading upside down. I helped him as best I could. The next morning when I came down for breakfast there was a man from Paris associated as physicist with Schaeffer's studio for musique concrete. I said, "Well, I'll be seeing you at the luncheon today." He said, "What luncheon?" I said , "At the palace." He said, "I haven't been invited." I said, "I'm sure you are invited, I saw your name on the list. You'd better call them up; they're anxious to know who's coming." An hour later the phone rang for me. It was the director of the week's events. He said, "I just found out that you invited Dr. So-and-So to the luncheon." I said I'd seen his name on the list. The director said, "You've made a mistake and I am able to correct it, but what I'd like to know is: How many others have you also invited?"

David Tudor and I went up to New Haven to do a television class for the New Haven State Teachers College. That college specializes in teaching by means of television. What they do is to make a tape, audio and visual, and then broadcast it at a later date early in the morning. In the course of my talking, I said something about the purpose of our purposelessness. Afterwards, one of the teachers said to the head of the Music Department, "How are you to explain that to your class next Tuesday?" Anyway, we finished the TV business, drove back to the school, and I asked he teachers to recommend some second-hand bookstores in New Haven for David Tudor and I to visit. They did. A half-hour later when we walked into one of them, the book dealer said, "Mr. Tudor? Mr. Cage?" I said, "Yes." He said, "You're to call the State Teachers College." I did. They said the television class we had recorded had not been recorded at all. Apparently someone had forgot to turn something on.

On the way back from New Haven we were driving along the Housatonic. It was a beautiful day. We stopped to have dinner but the restaurants along the river's edge turned out not to be restaurants at all but dark, run-down bars with, curiously, no views of the river. So we drove on to Newtown, where we saw so many cars parked around a restaurant that appeared to have a Colonial atmosphere. I said, "All those cars are a good sign. Let's eat there." When we got in, we were in a large dining room with very few other people eating. The waitress seemed slightly giddy. David Tudor ordered some ginger ale, and after quite a long time was served some Coca Cola, which he refused. Later we both ordered parfaits; mine was to be chocolate, his to be strawberry. As the waitress entered the kitchen, she shouted, "Two chocolate parfaits." When David Tudor explained to her later that he had ordered strawberry, she said, "They made some mistake in the kitchen." I said, "There must be another dining room in this building with a lot of people eating in it." The waitress said, "Yes. It's downstairs and there are only two of us for each floor and we keep running back and forth."

Then we had to go back to New Haven to do the TV class over again. This time on the way back it was a very hot and humid day. We stopped again in Newtown, but at a different place, for some ice. There was a choice: raspberry, grape, lemon, orange, and pineapple. I took grape. It was refreshing. I asked the lady who served it whether she had made it. She said, "Yes." I said, "Is it fresh fruit?" She said, "It's not fresh, but it's fruit."


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