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John Cage One 11 with 103
The Complete John Cage Edition, Volume 36

One 11 (1992)
a film without subject by John Cage, produced and directed by Henning Lohner
103 (1991)
for large orchestra
the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln or Spoleto Festival Orchestra
Arturo Tamayo and John Kennedy, directors

mode 174 DVD


Like most of Cage's experiments, the joint performance of One11 and 103 is well worth a try. To quote from the release notes:

“A performance for camera person and light, One11 , is a film without subject. There is light but no persons, no things, no ideas about repetition and variation. Chance operations were used with respect to the shots, in black and white. The light environment was designed and programmed by John Cage and Andrew Culver, as was the editing of the film.

“The orchestral work 103 musically accompanies One11. Like the film, 103 is 90-minutes long, divided into seventeen parts - its density varies from solos, duos, trios to full orchestral tuttis.” One11 is so-called because it is Cage's eleventh piece for solo performer (this time a solo cameraman.)

Mode have embraced the possibilities of recording technology by offering a choice of two different performances of 103 to accompany the film. This is a fantastic decision, offering the audience a tangible variety of experiences.

Having chosen an option, we first see an intro, credits are rolled while images flicker in the background, preparing us for the impact of the main feature.

A 54321 countdown to the film, which begins with a black screen, then a grey wash, followed by light slowly moving across the screen, rich chordal sounds accompanying; a captivating beginning that totally immerses the viewer. One11 could be seen as an installation in your own living room, and ideally should be experienced in a pitch black room, allowing your senses to concentrate on the film - a meditation - with no reflections appearing on the screen when black. An amazing variety of visual textures are produced using different gradations of light in a black-and-white atmosphere; rather like Cage's observation that there is no silence, so it would seem that there is no complete black or white - the eye (my eye at least) will always create patterns of its own, especially in response to the grainy texture of a TV. (I wonder if anyone will ever make an HDTV version? A ‘transcription' of an old film for modern equipment.) The sound world of 103 I also found compelling, although the solitary orchestral stabs are a little annoying at times. In general, the orchestral textures evolve slowly, reminiscent of electro-acoustic compositions.

Reviewing this issue was frustrating; listening naturally, without the reviewer's ‘pen and paper', I felt compelled to let the experience wash over me, to draw me in hypnotically and allow a lost sense of time (the sign of great music.) Having instead to concentrate and critique seemed very much against the experience that the visuals and music were willing me to have. (Of course, having now written this review I can watch it more meditatively as many times as I like.) Cage writes that the film is ‘meaningless activity which is nonetheless communicative' and I choose to take a similar stance in appreciating it.

Some might worry that this issue is a ‘difficult' performance to experience, but the exact opposite is true. Just relax and let the sequence of sounds and images lead your eye and your mind.

Making of “One11” by John Cage - The Genesis of the Feature Film “One11” by John Cage - a Film Essay by Henning Lohner . Narrated by Joan La Barbara

The beginning segment of this is very hard to hear... a lot of white noise over the talking, which is mumbled anyway. Other extracts are much much clearer, and reveal the extensive planning, creativity and exploration that went into this project. Video excerpts of Cage talking about his aesthetics are priceless. This documentary is highly informative, giving a descriptive account of the creation of these compositions.

Interview with Van Carlson & Henning Lohner

This provides further illumination regarding Cage's approach to chance procedures as well as the complexities resulting from the making of One11 .

Aleks Szram