Spent today in Newcastle - my daughter, Emily, had spent Saturday with us, so I drove up to take her home and, wanting to kill two birds with one stone, visit the Baltic art gallery.
I've not been to the Baltic for a while, but I've been itching to ever since I saw that an exhibition of John Cage's work was on there. I hadn't read the information on the exhibition very closely and so it was really great to discover that a realisation of Cage's audio-visual work, HPSCHD, was being continually played in one of the rooms. It's difficult to describe it. All I can say is that I could have stayed in that room all day. Me and HPSCHD go back a long way. I remember it being played at the Proms in the 70s and lying awake in bed as a teenager, in the dark, listening to it on the radio. HPSCHD is written for upto seven harpsichords, upto 52 tapes of computer generated sound, upto 64 slide projectors and upto 40 motion films. The audience is free to wander in and out of what you can imagine is an astonishing enviroment. The version being realised at the Baltic relies on recorded sound and is scaled down somewhat, but it still comes across as an the engaging piece it undoubtedly is. (HPSCHD, by the way, is pronounced "Harpsichord").
The bulk of Cage's music was composed using chance techniques - most famously, using the I Ching to determine pitches, durations, and so on. One thing I find really interesting about his pieces is that they somehow manage to sound like music by John Cage. There is the ghost of a detectable style about his music. I find his use of chance liberating: you're free to enjoy what is happening at any given moment simply for what it is. There's no agenda. It doesn't begin and end - it starts and stops. It doesn't develop - it simply changes, or not, as the case may be.
There are several other exhibitions on as well as the Cage. There's a room full of art inspired by John Cage, which includes an installation by the local artist Richard Rigg. Two bells are sealed in two seperate glass jars. A machine varies the air pressure in the jars. Sometimes the bells are suspended in a vacuum, at other times they're suspended in air. A mechanism in each jar periodically causes a hammer to strike the bell. Sometimes the bells are struck silently as there is no air in the jar to carry the sound waves, while at other times there is air and the bells can be heard. Cage, I think would have thought it was wonderful.
In another part of the gallery, Tomas Saraceno has created what I thought was a fantastic installation which was not only based on spider webs and astrophysics, but which looks as if it was (the link includes a picture)! As well as the obvious resemblance to a spider's web, the work also reminded me of models I've seen of the known universe which chart the layout of clouds of galaxies. It touches the unsayable.
5 years ago