Jan 182011

I came across this lovely video clip via an article by Andy Field in the Guardian. It shows John Cage, a pioneer in experimental and chance music, performing an avant-garde composition on an American TV game show in the 1960s. Yes really! An avant-garde musical composition a TV game show.

I love the gentle good humour and graciousness with which John Cage delivers his work. (And now I’ve written that, it’s struck me that I think ‘graciousness’ might be word that I’ve heard more since I’ve been in the US). There’s a charming earnestness about him and I loved this line:

“Perfectly seriously, I consider music the production of sounds and since in the piece you will hear I produce sounds, I would call it music”

Could a similar performance have ever happened on a UK game show, I wonder? Would the content editor have deemed it too high brow, and hence unfitting? And if it had gone ahead, would it have required a more tongue in cheek approach and would John Cage have received the same amused, open-minded reception? And how lovely that he did, because he seems to have wound up going down a storm. Andy Field draws an interesting comparison with ‘Britain’s Got Talent’.

In Simon Cowell’s universe you’re either a future star, a lovable object of derision or an unlikely underdog about to undergo a heart-warming transformation; in each case, your treatment is predetermined by which pigeonhole you’re placed in.

Are we that blinkered? I hope not. Nevertheless, I do think the clip might illustrate something that relates to the different weightings placed on positive and negative politeness on each side of the pond. If you’re inclined to hesitate before you dismiss things, you probably have to accept more dross in your life. But maybe you also wind up coming across more new stuff that can enhance life as well? Any thoughts?

Other related posts:

Susan Boyle and UK and US audiences


 Posted by at 12:20 pm

  5 Responses to “A game show performance”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Karenne Sylvester, Ian James. Ian James said: This is great! John Cage on “Britain’s Got Talent” over at @vickihollett’s blog […]

  2. I have nothing to offer on the politeness issue but i’m wondering if the “production of noise= music” is something that translates differently either side of the pond.
    Some of the production of noise in this house is far from music,though i accept that we could sample it and “musicfy” it.
    I think Mr Cage is very modest as clearly he has very carefully composed the individual noises into music.
    as for the labour dispute -who’s going to turn on the radio – that’s the same on both sides of the Ocean!

  3. As Andy Green pointed out, you have to remember that the American TV show took place in the 60’s and Britain’s Got Talent is a product of the new century. In 50 years TV audiences have changed and I’m not sure the reaction of the American audience would be the same today.
    I do agree that Mr Cage clearly put a lot of work into his composition and listening to it once was interesting. But would many people listen to it twice – especially without the video?
    I’m also unsure if you can generalise on the subject of politeness as I know lots of Brits who would sit through all sorts of things in order to avoid hurting people’s feelings.

  4. Hi Chris, Yes, I thought that labour dispute was pretty interesting. It looks like they were still working out how it could be dealt with when he walked out on stage.

  5. Oh welcome Jim – thank you so much for chipping in.
    Re the UK/US audience difference, of course there is Piers’s Morgan’s take here https://www.merican.vickihollett.com/?p=403), but yes, I’m note sure people would come back twise.
    Something I’ve definitely noticed a difference with audiences in is new journalism. I’m sure US reporters are more reserved about expressing criticism – initially at least. They do get the gloves out and start throwing punches, but it often seems to be a bit delayed in UK reporting terms, I think.

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