Musical Theatre

4 Interactive Musical Theater

From the mid-1960s onward, John Cage developed a series of collective compositions featuring new forms of musical theater in which the music, the action on the stage, and the stage design were combined for the first time in media-based interactive constellations. The first step in this direction was taken by David Tudor in collaboration with Lowell Cross in the solo piece Bandoneon! (a combine), which was premiered in 1965 as part of the 9 Evenings series for the Second Armory Show. Lowell Cross had developed an apparatus for the event that transformed the sounds of David Tudor’s bandoneon playing, which was manipulated using live electronics, so as to control images on two television monitors. It was the first attempt to link directly the images of a scenic presentation to music.

In John Cage’s Variations V for six tape players, six shortwave receivers, six oscillators, and six loudspeakers, as well as objects, contact microphones, other electronic devices, and dancers (1965), the relationship of music and stage was interpreted in a completely new way. Only the dancers are on the stage, and in this work they take over the function of the instruments and trigger all the musical events by their movements. Robert Moog and Cecil Coker designed two control systems for the piece: one using ten photoelectric cells, each of which was activated when the dancers interrupted a corresponding light beam, and another with electromagnetic field antennas that reacted to the distance between the dancers and their position on the stage. Both controlled the orchestra of electronic sound sources, which reproduced sound material composed by Cage, depending on the actions on the stage. Another counterpoint to this constellation was a stage set composed of light projections, slide projections, and monitors, using material from Nam June Paik, which was also controlled by electronic systems on the stage.[8] Cage developed this media composition as a series of performances for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company; hence the work is documented only in a action score produced afterward — Remarks re an Audio-Visual Performance — and in a television production by the composer Gordon Mumma, who took part in these performances.[9]

John Cage continued the basic model of Variations V in several of his interactive media compositions, such as Reunion (with David Behrman, Lowell Cross, Gordon Mumma, and David Tudor). In this work, a number of pieces of electronic music are controlled by the movements of the pieces on an electronically prepared chessboard. At the premiere on March 5, 1968, in Toronto, the stage action was a game of chess between John Cage and Marcel Duchamp, while Teeny Duchamp watched from nearby.[10] The final stage in this open series was HPSCHD (i.e., Harpsichord), composed between 1967 and 1969 with Lejaren A. Hiller, for one to seven amplified electric harpsichords and one to fifty-one tape players (and two to fifty-eight loudspeakers, accordingly), supplemented if desired by slide projections and/or films.