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Can being together can be deforming?

Why do you not do what I do?

If you did do what I do would I like that?

If I did what we all like to do would we like that?

Where do our lines of definition end?

If my eye sees yours do you realize it?

Do we have a collective eye?

Is it to be found?

When do we resolve to complete this series?

If time is ever moving are ideas then constantly being recycled?

What isn’t being recycled?

Does wiping our slates clean accomplish anything?

Does covering ourselves with grit and grime accomplish anything?

Are you interested in something?

What was it that I said?

Why do you resist the urge to stop seeing as I do?

Now that I have inquired, may I inquire again?

May I?

Do we have a folklore?

If we did would we be focusing on it?

Didn’t we say we would take care of this?

If we didn’t say we didn’t care than do we?

Is there any reason to even ask if we do?

Would I ask a question if it were pictures not sounds?

If questions are pictures are they blurry or sharp?

How many can we make?

How many can we stop making?

What do we do if beauty only exists when there is more than one of us?

What do we do if it can only be achieved alone?

Do I need to know when to stop?

How can we unwind the details?


John Cage’s message is that there is no message.  A symphony of sounds may lead one to notice them, or not.  For Cage, following a method is just following a method, he’s apathetic to it.  His focus is to channel what we find rather than translate it.  Urgency and action create movement.  He mentions how his composition procedure and formation of paragraphs result from “chance operations”:  he funnels things which are happening as he writes his music into his music.  Cage says that seeing things as they are is seeing them as impermanent, therefore there are no informed operations in his approach.  Nothing replaces anything, it just creates more things.




“I know nothing.  All I can do

is say   what    strikes me

as especially


-John Cage




Elena said, “you should take care of yourself and not care what is happening outside around you.”  I told her my stomach hurts but I want to go out to dinner anyways.  As we walked down Dekalb avenue I passed a woman crying on another woman’s shoulder.  I watched them for a moment through sideways glances and grew to be impressed by the grace that the woman holding the other contained.  Minutes later I too felt sad.  I bought a latte and was mean to the staff whom I see every day.  I was unhappy about their approach to servings of milk per servings of expresso.  It was raining and I had to get on with my day.















15 comments to Silence

  • I love John Cage. He used to say that sounds act. He was one of those that changed the vision of one generation on a kind of art. Music is a space art or a time art? Sounds are just what they are. It does not have to pretend to be anything else, in order to give us very deep pleasure. The sound is an experience, and silence is an experience as well. A very hard to experience too..

  • Nancy

    Extraordinary writing, Allie.

  • Natalie "Tschechaniuk"

    Allie, your response to Silence was masterful. I want to start off every day reading this string of philosophical questions to remind me of the ambiguities of interaction. I really know nothing about John Cage, he is a mystery to me (is that OK to admit?) and your writing both increased my confusion and heightened my intrigue.

    I’m captivated by your observation that “Cage says that seeing things as they are is seeing them as impermanent” and I think this idea can apply to our work here. Being comfortable with impermanence is, in my opinion, necessary for people who concern themselves with technology and technological innovation. As we create more things, those things force other things, the things we just moments ago created and are really proud of, into an obsolescence. If we are uncomfortable with impermanence, we become stuck. But how can we understand the second part of your observation, that “therefore there are no informed operations in his approach”? Certainly this doesn’t mean his operations lack intention, does it? Are his operations truly chance?

  • Talya Stein

    I’ve never read John Cage, but your writing was so inspiring.
    Silence. Is it ever silent?
    So much is happening around us. So much is being said around us and too us. We say so much, and it’s only a fraction of what we’re thinking.
    After all is said and done, the echo of all those words and sentences remain in our head. They attach themselves to our soules, and shape them.
    I read once an article that everybody needs to be able to sit in silence for 15 minutes a day. I find it remarkable that it’s become so heard for us to deal with our own voices in our heads. It’s become so heard to deal with ourselves.
    Silence. Is there such a thing?

  • Zhenzhen

    Today, in the middle of the storm, my roommate Harry asked me, “Have you ever wondered why you are where you are at this moment, doing what you are doing?”

    I said, “I recently reached a point of my life. I see every single new thing I do being the result of everything that has happened to me prior to that moment.”

    Harry asked me again, “What is life, for you?”

    I said, “It’s like a gigantic computer game all the people ever existed on earth wrote together.” The game contains a long laundry list of things to do. Each of us start at a particular point of the list. Everyday, we wake up, check off a few things on that list, and go to bed.”

    Harry said, “Depending on what things each of us have decided to check off before, the options coming up next for each of us is different. Like augmented reality.”

    I said, “Yes. It’s from the same list, but the sequence for each of us is different.”

    Harry said, “Some times we have the option of entering other people’s game.”

    “True” I said, “If they ask what we do to their games, we are invited to stay longer. If not, we go back to playing our own game.”

    Harry asked, “Then, there is a really important question. We all play at different speed. Which speed wins?”

    I thought about it for a few seconds, “Each day for we are alive, we have to keep playing. We were never given an option to stop, really. It almost seems like the whole point of the game is to play at a speed that keep us busy enough so we don’t have too much free time and go crazy; but to play slow enough so we don’t get exhausted before we are finally allowed to stop playing.”

    Harry said, “There is no best speed. There is only a comfortable speed. And it is different, for each of us.”

    We don’t have the option to not play. But we always have the option of playing it at a comfortable speed.

  • Madame Diracles, wonderful writing.

    That made me think about hearing/listening. We’re all so into technologies that sometimes I feel we’re very disconnected to this sense. What is truly listen to someone? Listen what is in the words, what is the gestures, and listen to what has not been said – silence. As a storyteller I think that’s one of the most important ability: to be open enough to listen. And sometimes to find some free room inside yourself to really receive what you’re listening. There is a very important moment about listening related to “not knowing”. If you think you know, you’re not listening well. To listen is not to be prepared, to take the risk, to be open to the other.

    And Zhenzhen, we don’t have the option to stop, but we can create games inside the games. Or create new game rules. Or hack the existing ones. And about the speed, that reminds me of dancing. It’s a little proverb from the african heritage in my hometown. “One who truly dances doesn’t care about speed or fancy moves. Dancing is about creating your own ground.”

  • Louise Foo

    I find this thread very inspiring and I can hear everything else but silence resonate within this virtual space. Do we have a collective eye? is such an interesting question. Me and Natasha have talked about that, working our color play project. Do we perceive and sense the same? We can only get close to each other, but never get to be each other. Technology can create the illusion and give us experiences that simulates something like synasthesia, but only so close…

  • Louise Foo

    BTW – I thought I’d share “some rules for students and teachers” by John Cage. I find many of the rules to be very good fit for ITP – like “always be around”

    RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.

    RULE TWO: General duties of a student – pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

    RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher – pull everything out of your students.

    RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

    RULE FIVE: be self-disciplined – this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

    RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

    RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

    RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

    RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

    RULE TEN: We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.

    HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything – it might come in handy later.

  • Myriam Melki

    Beautiful post Allie. It reminded me of Sarah Kane’s Crave. A fascinating play. Both happy and sad. You should definitely read it. It is short, but condensed. Hilarious yet heartbreaking, smart yet atypical.
    I love absurd literature. I find that the best way to make sense of life is to open our minds, ask ourselves relevant and irrelevant questions and let ourselves drown in them. Most of the times, the “drowning” doesn’t seem to make sense. But then again, what is life but a huge labyrinth in which one ought to get lost in order to find their way. Absurd literature is just that. “Waiting For Godot” is a perfect example of a book that, to me, makes sense of life. Politics, power struggle, capitalism, hypocrisy, religion, racism, xenophobia, slavery are some of the themes explored in this “nonsensical” play about the world we live in.
    I just wanted to let you know how great of an impression your comment made on me. Thank You for your Words. M.

  • Nancy

    Zhenzhen… WOW!
    And thank you Louise for those 10 commandments from Cage. Will post them on my wall!

  • Yang Wang

    this is beautiful. I dont’r read too much poetry but I love them. your experience reminded me some thoughts. Everyday I took subway to school, everyday, sometimes early sometimes later. When I come to manhattan early, like 9 am, the train wil be much more crowded, just like Beijing, no space for raise hands, even reading a book or play with a 10inch tablet. At that time, I choose to stop everything and watch. I am not a tall guy but still be able to see many people’s top of heads. It’s dark indoor of trains, and silence, nobody talk loudly during rush hour, that’s too crowed so looked like everyone are looking up or looking down. I moved a little to see more clearly. The train was quavering, and people quavered too, I saw old man, ladies, young girls, students, dark light casted to their serious face, the constant roaring sound greeted my ears. At that moment, a kind of heavy sense of mission came to my mind, “where is the final point of everybody” “what’s the task of everyone”, before they were born, was there someone gave the mission to them and their lives begin? A bunch of thoughts came to my mind and looked like the light was changing. Suddenly, all illusion stopped, because train berthed.

  • wln211

    Of silence and mushrooms –

    I sat through 3 hours of mushrooms.
    3 hours of slides of mushrooms to be exact; photographed in every angle possible.
    One by one, New York’s bravest and finest mycophiles read paragraphs of Cage’s Silence while the mushrooms flashed on the white walls. I wondered what did mushrooms have in common with Silence?
    The buzz of the first 6 minutes has already faded…
    “Is that it?” I thought,
    “Is that it??”
    “No, seriously… is that it?” The minutes ticked on and after 40 minutes, people were politely shuffling and coughing and opening sweet wrappers. Finally, one person walked out and then another and then another and so on and so forth until there 37 of us left. Yes, I had time to count.

    I wanted to leave but I felt sorry for the old mycophiles who had obviously worked tirelessly for the mushroom performance. I stayed out of pity.

    A zen master once said, if you cannot find meaning in the action do it for a hundred times, the action will suddenly take on a life of its own.

    As I sat through my 100th minute, I began to resist less, I began to listen more…
    One by one, mushroom stories emerged from mycophiles who knew Cage personally… How he was approached to teach 20th Century Music for the New School and agreed only after the management promised they would have a module in mycology.

    How he had to move from his Stony Point house and the first items he would carefully pack away were not research books or videos of his performances or of Cunningham’s dances but literature and slides of mushrooms.
    How he was credited with finding some unidentified Clitrocybe robusta mushroom and he served his new forages to his guests that night without really determining if they were truly poisonous or not. Cage himself was a victim of severe mushroom poisoning and so were his fellow foragers though they all survived. Cage himself declared “No one really dies while lion-hunting in Africa, but many have died of mushroom-hunting.”

    What does mycology have to do with Cage’s Silence? Slowly but surely, it made mycophlic sense…
    The mushroom is Cage’s muse. Mushrooms represent a sense of freedom; exhilarating unbridled freedom. Mushrooms cannot guarantee health and well-being after consumption, not the wild self-foraged ones anyway. There will be for all mycologists a period of uncertainty after a meal of foraged mushrooms. Wild mushrooms resist order and certainty, similar to Cage’s music. If one were to examine the gills of a mushroom, one would discover such symmetry amidst their asymmetry. Cagean music takes a while to enjoy if one is only familiar with the harmonious structure of earlier 18th and 19th century music. Cagean music is a rebellious thump to classical melody because the composer allows all sounds to be music, even silence… Unlike asparagus (yes, asparagus grows rather noisily), mushrooms grows ever so silently.

    For John Cage who enjoys mushrooms, zen, whimsical words and hidden harmonies probably in that order…

    the humble and slightly irreverent
    mushroom growing
    unsightly out of
    rotting tree trunks
    in damp and dank shady areas waits
    for a mycophile to pay it special attention
    but never guaranteeing its affection
    in return because the mycophile might be dead
    soon after consumption.

    “The function of the mushroom is to rid the world of old rubbish.” John Cage

  • wln211

    a journey from point
    to B

    creates displacement
    this displacement
    aesthetics of flight

    an exercise

    the space is the / a practiced place
    a mental
    a physical
    practice is

  • Harry (Chiu-Hao) Chen

    Thank you Zhenzhen for making record for our conversation. Sometimes I would say something just coming from my past life experience, I am actually don’t know if it’s right or wrong. I am glad you can keep record of our conversation. I appreciate that I can iterate these arguments few month later….:D

  • Wen Lei Ng

    One recurring theme in Silence; chance.

    An exercise in chance; i-ching.

    John Cage would take the i-ching; an ancient Chinese book on divination and compose according to whatever theme or story that was being portended for the day.
    16 months ago in a joint exhibition, I presented work inspired by John Cage.
    3 pieces of 45” X 45” plywood
    1800 needles, because nails are too chunky.
    20 kilometers of white thread
    And chance…

    There were self-made roly-poly lamps that one could twirl around and depending on which way the light fell, the artworks which consisted only of needles and white thread on a white wood would tell a different story, the person could change the look of the artwork directly by swinging the lamps.

    A conversation overhead…

    A 7 or 8 year old, I can’t tell for sure… I have no children.

    “Mummy!!! I cannot get the light back! Mummy, help me!

    Which way did you push the light?

    I don’t know. I just push and the light got it. Now I cannot get it again.

    You don’t like the way the shadows look now?

    Mummy, can you help me get the light back??

    How did you get it the first time?

    I just push, then I got it.

    Ahhhh… You got it by chance!

    What does by chance mean?”

    For Cage who practiced Zen; randomness amidst structure, chance amidst certainty, stillness amidst action…