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John Cage, Video Games, and Earth Day

2012 April 21
by Shared by Steve Rust

A series of happy coincidences this week.  Having recently completed a review of David Ingram’s recent book The Jukebox in the Garden: Ecocriticism and American Popular Music Since 1960 for the Journal of Popular Culture, I have been thinking a bit about musical ecologies and the work of John Cage, which David nicely summarizes.  Also, I am beginning to formulate plans to co-lead a pre-conference seminar at ASLE 2013 in Denton, TX on the environmentality of games and apps.  Someone I’ve been consulting on those plans is Dave Baker, a media librarian here at UO. Dave led a class session in my media aesthetics class last term and has put together one of the countries most extensive collections of game consoles that are available for students and staff to check out from the library.

Yesterday, Dave took part in an original composition orchestrated by John Russell, “Imaginary John Cage No. 1  (For 12 Video Games)”.  John’s piece was original avant-garde composition created with Dave’s help by mixing the sound from 12 players live gaming experience.  More at Dave’s blog for the event’ linked above. Briefly: ” Twelve video games / instruments are played, live, by twelve players / performers. Audio from each game is routed into a single audio mixer, and from there to the performance space’s speakers. The score is written for the mixer, and details the volume level of each channel at a given time.”

As it turns out, though, the gaming experience, and thus the experience of “Imaginary John Cage” is environmentally problematic.  According to a recent study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon, “68 percent of all game console energy consumed in 2010 happened while in idle mode, which equaled 10.8 TWh of energy and about $1.24 billion in electricity costs.” Although video games represent only about 1% of all energy use, more than 40% of US households own at least one console and most of us leave them plugged in and in standby mode all day.  Just something to consider.

I’ll be pondering the significance of “Imaginary John Cage” tomorrow during Earth Day. Perhaps there’s a place for games and a time to turn them off and go outside. A lot of ideas swirled in the avalanche of sound during John and Dave’s incredibly powerful performance.

Here’s John’s brief intro to the piece:

“Imaginary John Cage No. 1 has three movements:

  1. benediction
  2. her people speechless
  3. to see beauty even in

The first movement is spoken and begins “Welcome. Thank you all for coming.” After that, the speaker is welcome to do any number of things that might fall under the title of benedictions. Dave has agreed to do the first movement, which is nice because I wasn’t sure I felt like it (for future reference: the first movement is entirely optional).

However, here is a sketch of how I imagined this first benediction might go:

Welcome. Thank you all for coming. There are a few things that you all should know:

  1.  One hundred years has passed since John Cage was born; twenty years ago, John Cage died.
  2. Inspired by the work of John Cage (particularly his Imaginary Landscape, no. 4: for 12 radios), we came up with the idea of creating the composition you have come here to experience.
  3. Imaginary John Cage no. 1 (for 12 video games) is comprised of three movements.
  4. You are currently listening to the first movement, “benediction.”
  5. The next movement, soon to begin, is “her people speechless.”
  6. The third and final movement is “to see beauty even in.”
  7. I solemnly swear that not using capital letters was an accident, not an affectation.
  8. (However, the use of parentheses is fast becoming a crutch.)
  9. We are not afraid of anything either.”
One Response leave one →
  1. April 22, 2012

    Thanks for you comments, Steve, and glad you enjoyed the performance. Cage had a lot of interesting things to say and teach us about the relationship between humans and their environment. Will definitely take a look at the Ingram book.

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