36 Years Ago

36 Years Ago, Vienna 1971—A Student Journal

Day 351: John Cage—HPSCHD


Vienna 1971—A Student Journal
A year of music, study, travel, sightseeing & friends.

Day 351 — John Cage—HPSCHD
18-Jul-1972 (Tue.)


John Cage and David Tudor
John Cage and David Tudor


Went swimming again at Olympic pool. Good way to relax.

Train ticket to Munich. Very expensive. $20 [66 DM]. At this rate, I’ll go home tomorrow.

The big concert.


If I never saw a “happening,” I never saw a happening—but this was a happening!

In the beautiful, modern, Philharmonic Hall, it took place.

Slides (mostly abstract and space); films (mostly space); around four harpsichordists playing; 52 tape recorders; and a grand piano intertwined with record playing.

All this going on at once, and governed by chance.

It is certainly an environment and the audience is free to do anything around the area. One person felt free enough to throw up.

It is a fascinating idea, interesting and sometimes stimulating. But I always look at the result. Biggest problem—all of this variety produces a result, which essentially lacks variety. That is, variety in terms of perception. After three hours, I was really out of it. The only time the pace was altered was in the Big Salle with concert piano—because here, only one thing was going on. The other room was too much.

Cage was walking around, supervising, etc.

Sort of wild. I still don’t believe it.

For me, I like the concept of freedom, but I can only appreciate the result for a short while. Rather, a short while of the result.

John Chowning—Computer composer

Gave a lecture on his work at Stanford U., Cal. Fascinating. His concepts of “dimension” in music—room, tone color, etc.

I like it because he thinks in terms of results and perception. His music has more in it. He is a musician. Really knows his stuff.

Would love to find out about possibilities of going there.


John Cage—HPSCHD. This was the big finale and final concert of the week-long avant-garde music festival in Berlin. It was in Philharmonic Hall and occupied the entire venue. I mention the instrumentation of the piece—four harpsichords (thus, the name), piano, many tape recorders, abstract slides, films and such. The piano was located in the concert hall, and that was the most concert-like setting. Otherwise, you walked around experiencing the multimedia “happening.” As you walked around, you were walking through and in-and-about a live, musical texture. Sort of like walking within a composition. I remember the textures and music changing, the spatial effect of the event, and as you walked the visual environment changing as well. You might hear some electronic music coming out of a tape recorder and speaker near you, then as you went somewhere else, other sounds came into being. All of this was governed, or ungoverned, by chance. Aleatoric music. Cage was walking around during the piece as well. You have to give Cage credit, this was a unique and amazing event and musical experience. The opening photo is of John Cage and David Tudor from a concert on Day 345.

Berlin Philharmonic Hall
Berlin Philharmonic Hall

I like it. I actually love the idea of these multimedia events and their intent and effect. The idea of walking within a composition intrigues me. The music and visuals are like a giant texture that is changing and evolving (like much of music). After a while, though, the effect of the piece seems to again become “the same.” There becomes a lack of direction and focus, with little movement or dramatic tension-release. My mild youthful complaining is probably just my desire for some type of emotion within music (tension-release). I enjoyed HPSCHD. It was a happening, it was a multimedia event, it was a one in a lifetime experience. Thanks, John Cage.

Jr. high school “happening.” An aside. In 1976, when teaching middle school, my students put on a sort of “mini-happening” 1-hour program for the entire school. A one-hour concert in the auditorium with abstract and historical slides, student-made movies, modern dance, electronic and musique concrète student compositions, and historical narrative based on the U.S. Bicentennial. The student body was amazed and quiet. The student composers and filmmakers had a sense of pride and accomplishment rarely achieved in schools. See, Mr. Cage, I was influenced by you and my Viennese composer, Dieter Kaufmann. (See pictures below.)

Student Nancy at the Electrocomp 101 synthesizer
Student at the synthesizer
Student Bill creating musique concrète
Student Bill creating musique concrete

John Chowning. I remember this lecture. It was probably before the concert. Chowning was a composer working with computer music at Stanford University. What I remember was his concepts of perception and the placement of sound in space using speakers placed around the auditorium. He presented examples where the sound came from front, back, sides, slightly behind you, even above you. I remember being amazed and impressed. (This was before any type of surround sound.) Volume, spatial direction (panning), depth perception (dry vs. reverb) created this spatial placement and was all done within the computer, not with external processing and twisting knobs. Nice.

Relaxation and stress. A bit of swimming during the day for relaxation, this time at Olympic pool (from the Berlin Olympics in 1932). My stress comes from purchasing an expensive train ticket to Munich. I guess I am determined to see a bit more of Munich during the summertime. Last I was there, was the dead of winter.


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