Indeterminacy By John Cage at the Cube, Bristol performed by Steve Beresford and Tanya Chen with Stewart Lee 22nd March 2014
“John Cage’s Indeterminacy is a cardboard box filled with 90 cards containing 90 stories of different lengths, and a leaflet of instructions: “Read the stories aloud, with or without accompaniment, paced so that each takes one minute. A stop-watch or watch with a second hand will help keep time. Read all 90 stories in order or select a smaller number, using chance procedures or not.”
I found Indeterminacy engaging, diverting and, on occasion thanks to its dead-pan execution, quiet funny. But it was the inherent technical limitations of the Internet that gave this performance its extra unique dimension.
Every 20 seconds or so the live web link would cut out as the struggling signal huffed and buffered to keep up with demand. Hence the image froze and the audio ceased for another 10 seconds or so, thus creating an additional element of tension unfortunately not enjoyed by the audience in Bristol. With foresight Cage might have considered including this skittish behaviour himself as an extra random element. Nevertheless I remained dedicated and stuck with it to the end. Discouraged to the point of giving up on a piece of live performance art, the convenience of which is freely delivered to one’s home, would have been the height of rudeness, if not the act of a philistine.
So, eyes closed, I allowed myself to sink hypnotically into this aural fragmented world and drift aimlessly around my sub-conscious. Emotions stirred and memories rekindled and at times I was reminded of happier times from my childhood. Of watching strange films late into the night on BBC2 that seemingly went on for hours and carried one off into undocumented dream-like scenarios and rarely reaching any conclusion. The journey itself was the reward.
Often foreign, often free of tenable narrative, but always beguiling. Even at a tender age I was drawn to these surreal excursions. I was mindful too that foreign cinema was apt not to be coy in delivering full visceral scope to its tale. My own articulation at the time was wont to be less urbane. ‘Foreign films equal tits’, was probably the size of it. But with it came the appreciation of cinematography and film-making for art’s sake. Later, Moviedrome would further satisfy the craving for non-mainstream cinema. And hormones took care of the rest. To its credit then Indeterminacy had me wanting to revisit those half-remembered films from a forgotten age: Celine Et Julie Vont En Bateau (1974), And Soon the Darkness (1970), Endless Night (1972), Blow-Up (1966) and La cabina (1972).
And so it was that for around 40 minutes, Lee, sat at desk like a worn-down teacher on the last day of term, read aloud as a middle-aged couple looking like they’d been banished from a grow-ups dinner party did their best to undermine their benign sitter with ever-more incongruous interruptions. This might may sound as if I didn’t like it, but I did. I enjoyed it very much. Art should always take us on a journey to another place. As a result I enjoy most things that eschew the mainstream. Mind you I can’t resist the suggestion that Lee deserves another BAFTA just for reeling in the temptation to turn to his cohorts and bark, ‘I’m trying to read here, do you mind?’
Indeterminacy continues to tour the provinces.
Incidentally, I chose Endless Night (1972).
Steve Beresford and Tanya Chen (No website found, do you know of one?)
Indeterminacy at the Cube Bristol March 2014 – flickr set by Dan Pope