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PRINT February 2010

SIGNAL TO NOISE: JOHN CAGE AND “THE ANARCHY OF SILENCE”

THINKING OF JOHN CAGE, we tend to think of a specific aesthetic template: a program enjoining the random, impersonal, and open-ended distribution of aural and visual phenomena. So it is striking that “The Anarchy of Silence: John Cage and Experimental Art” at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona this past winter—the first major retrospective since Cage’s death in 1992—was suspended between two modes of presentation that each seemed to contradict the very principles we normally identify with the composer.

The first mode was that of the crescendo. In tandem with MACBA’s chronological presentation of Cage’s work, an aural narrative unfolded in the exhibition spaces, like a swelling musical climax. Beginning with the relative silence of the first few rooms, where recorded performances of Cage’s music could be accessed only through headphones, the sounds grew progressively stronger and more

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