This program explores the use of avant-garde music in experimental cinema, with a particular focus on John Cage, who used chance, unconventional instrumentation, electroacoustics, ambient sound, and silence in his film scores. Cage’s collaborations with Maya Deren, Sidney Peterson, and Herbert Matter are included, along with a film by Ian Hugo featuring an original score by the electronic music pioneers Bebe and Louis Barron. The program culminates in four recent restorations by Center for Visual Music in Los Angeles: John Cage and Richard Lippold’s The Sun Film (1956); Cage and Lippold’s unfinished collaboration The Sun, Variations with a Sphere No. 10 (1956); Oskar Fischinger’s Studie nr. 5 (1930); and Jordan Belson’s LSD (c.1962).
At Land. 1944. USA. Directed by Maya Deren. With Deren, John Cage, Parker Tyler, Alexander Hammid. Deren’s dream of self-discovery unfolds in a series of silent, sensuous tableaux. “I wanted it to look like an underwater garden,” Deren would recall. “And the falling down the rocks is the tempo of underwater falling!” Preserved by Anthology Film Archives. 15 min.
Horror Dream. 1947. USA. Directed by Sidney Peterson, Hy Hirsh. During World War II, Mills College in Oakland, California, was a center of artistic innovation. The choreographer Marian Van Tuyl and the composer John Cage taught there for a number of years, and in 1947 they collaborated on this “choreographed interpretation of a dancer’s anxiety before starting her theater routine” (Scott MacDonald). Preserved by University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA); courtesy Canyon Cinema. 10 min.
Jazz of Lights. 1954. USA. Directed by Ian Hugo. Music by Louis and Bebe Barron. A pulsating city symphony of light, movement, and electronic music, transforming Times Square in the 1950s into what Hugo’s wife, the writer Anaïs Nin, called "an ephemeral flow of sensations.” Preserved by The Library of Congress through the National Film Preservation Foundation's Avant-Garde Masters Grant program funded by The Film Foundation. 16 min.
Works of Calder. 1950. USA. Directed by Herbert Matter. Music by John Cage. Narration by Burgess Meredith. A portrait of the artist Alexander Calder, for which Cage wrote a complex score featuring prepared piano, percussion, electronic effects, and the gentle clanging of Calder’s mobiles. Preserved by The Museum of Modern Art. 20 min.
The Sun Film. 1956. USA. Directed by John Cage, Richard Lippold. Silent. 6 min.
The Sun, Variations within a Sphere No. 10 [documentation]. 1956. USA. Directed by John Cage, Richard Lippold. Silent. 7 min.
Two films on the construction and display of Lippold’s kinetic art sculpture, The Sun, edited according to Cage’s graphic score composed via chance. Cage himself edited the first film; the second was never completed. These “lost” films were discovered in 2010 in a Long Island storage locker by the musicologist Richard Brown. Both films restored by Center for Visual Music in association with The John Cage Trust, with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation.
LSD. c. 1962. USA. Directed by Jordan Belson. “Belson created abstract films richly woven with cosmological imagery. LSD, for which Belson created an avant-garde score, was for him an experiment representing the zeitgeist of early 1960s San Francisco” (Cindy Keefer). Restored by Center for Visual Music with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation. 5 min.
Studie nr. 5. 1930. Germany. Directed by Oskar Fischinger. A “fantastic abstract ballet” (William Moritz) based on a popular foxtrot, “I’ve Never Seen a Smile Like Yours.” A young John Cage’s brief apprenticeship with Fischinger in 1937 was an encounter that would revolutionize his music: “[Fischinger] began to talk with me about the spirit which is inside each of the objects of this world,” Cage later recalled. “So, he told me, all we need to do to liberate that spirit is to brush past the object, and to draw forth its sound. That’s the idea which led me to percussion.” Restored by Center for Visual Music with funding from EYE Film Institute. 3 min.
John Cage performs "Water Walk" on I’ve Got a Secret 1960. USA. Cage performs his 1959 composition on live television, using an eclectic array of instruments including a rubber duck and a vase of roses. Courtesy The John Cage Trust. 5 min.