Cage 49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs

A longtime New York resident celebrates his city

Author: 
Peter Dickinson
Cage 49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs

CAGE 49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs

  • 49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs

In 1977 Cage devised this do-it-yourself environmental piece based on 147 New York street locations selected by using chance operations. In 1981 a short audio version for pianos only came out on a Nonesuch LP but the conception was realised complete only in 1994/95 when Don Gillespie and colleagues decided to visit all these places and video whatever they saw and heard.

So the 49 Waltzes (three sections each = 147 places) are simply film with no other soundtrack apart from what is heard at the time. It’s a celebration of ordinary life in urban and residential streets. Refreshingly there’s no background music, no asinine commentator, and the visual aspect dominates so that it’s more film than music. Cage enjoyed the sound of what happens – so here it is for just over two hours.

In each shot the camera swings out and back from a fixed position; and apart from endless ordinary streets there’s a subway station, the Bronx Zoological Gardens, Cunningham Park in Queens, and JFK. The random processes often focus on Staten Island and the whole series ends picturesquely with the sound of gulls and waves at Weir Creek Park in the Bronx. Birds are the soloists elsewhere too. As people go about their business there’s surprisingly little conventional music, apart from operetta on tap in a record store and the occasional car radio. The team has realised exactly what Cage intended in the most conscientious way; excellent documentation in three languages.

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