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Jazz Movement Study: Enjoy the Silence

by Chad Kouri

An experience that embraces chance—an apt tagline for Cage Unrequited, the event in which William Pope.L divided the entirety of John Cage's book Silence among more than 100 readers who were given absolute freedom in their definition of what a reading entails.

Before the event, I assumed that a reading of Cage’s writings would make the material more approachable, and in some cases it did, albeit only conceptually. Most performances I saw included a conspicuous element of silence, which I found extremely interesting as (1) the word silence is the title of Cage’s book and (2) throughout my life I can remember being told that the music is not in the notes, but in the silence between them. The diversity of approaches was also notable; I saw everything from speed reading to silent communications between a group via text messages, verbalized punctuation, whispering, silent body-movement-interpretations of Cage’s concepts, yelling, and general absurdity.

Most were interesting and thought provoking at first but became slightly mundane over the course of the 15 minutes allocated to each reader. This aside, I was truly fascinated by the variation in approaches from reader to reader, and came out of the experience with a much deeper appreciation and respect for performance artists. The key takeaway: Performance art isn’t as easy as it looks.

After much brainstorming and a good amount of flip-flopping, I chose to do a marathon reading of John Cage's Silence myself, underlining key phrases and sections that I thought emphasized Cage's point of view and intentions. Typically my Jazz Movement Studies are meant to graphically transcribe music (unconventional or otherwise) that is less accessible to a general public. As this grouping of performances was based on transcribed lectures and essays, I felt that pivoting toward my body of text-based works—specifically my Art Advice series—would be the most appropriate response.

Throughout the book bizarre metaphors are balanced by concise process descriptions and philosophical musings. At times the reading seemed tedious, but more often than not the highly conceptual texts lead to very interesting conclusions and reflections.

Due to my dyslexia—which reduces my reading speed to about 65% of the average adult’s—I’m not a big reader. Although at times reading from Silence was somewhat laborious, I did find my experiment in marathon reading quite rewarding. Many hunches were confirmed, and I brought a plethora of new questions back to the studio to investigate further.