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The distinguished American composer Pauline Oliveros (b. 1932) has profoundly influenced the course of contemporary music. During the 1960s, she pioneered collaborative mixed-media compositions with electronic sounds, light projections, and theatrical elements, and contributed to the early development of free improvisation and live electronic music. In the 1970s, Oliveros created a form of group improvisation called “Sonic Meditations,” which she extended to solo works, now considered classics in the repertory of experimental music for solo accordion. She has also made path-breaking contributions to feminist scholarship in music; and has devoted her creative work and teaching to humanitarian causes.
For more than a half century, Oliveros has developed a musical pluralism embracing all sound and all music. She views the multiplicity of sounds around us as “a grand composition,” a unified, yet diverse sound field; and she has devoted herself to teaching perceptual skills capable of appreciating this global “sound environment.” Although Oliveros’s inclusive approach to sound parallels the work of John Cage, her emphasis on interactions between sounds, people, and the places within which they coexist has taken her in a different direction, leading ultimately to a form of musical meditation that she calls “Deep Listening”—a praxis which explores not only physical sounds, but also the more ephemeral “sounds” of our innermost thoughts. Her search for resonances within both physical and virtual environments is a common element throughout her work.
Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) was a leader of the American avant-garde throughout his seventy-year long career and is considered one of the most important choreographers of our time. Through much of his life, he was also one of the greatest American dancers. With an artistic career distinguished by constant innovation, Cunningham expanded the frontiers not only of dance, but also of contemporary visual and performing arts. His collaborations with artistic innovators from every creative discipline have yielded an unparalleled body of American dance, music, and visual art.
Of all his collaborations, Cunningham’s work with John Cage, his life partner from the 1940s until Cage’s death in 1992, had the greatest influence on his practice. Together, Cunningham and Cage proposed a number of radical innovations. The most famous and controversial of these concerned the relationship between dance and music, which they concluded may occur in the same time and space, but should be created independently of one another. The two also made extensive use of chance procedures, abandoning not only musical forms, but narrative and other conventional elements of dance composition—such as cause and effect, and climax and anticlimax. For Cunningham the subject of his dances was always dance itself.
Born in Centralia, Washington on April 16, 1919, Cunningham began his professional modern dance career at 20 with a six-year tenure as a soloist in the Martha Graham Dance Company. In 1944 he presented his first solo show and in 1953 formed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company as a forum to explore his groundbreaking ideas. Over the course of his career, Cunningham choreographed more than 150 dances and over 800 “Events.”
John Cage (1912-1992) a prolific composer, writer, and artist who, for more than a half century, was a leading figure in the twentieth-century avant-garde. In the 1930s, he began a career as a musical innovator that for fifty years would send "shock waves" throughout the music world. In the 1930s and 40s he composed a series of works for percussion, experimented with electronic media, and invented the "prepared" piano.” Cage worked with dancers throughout his career, including Merce Cunningham, who became his lifelong companion and collaborator. Cage believed in the synthesis of art and life, which led him to adopt chance and indeterminacy as compositional methods. At Black Mountain College in 1952, he staged a now famous performance, which today is recognized as the first “happening.” The same year Cage wrote 4’33”, his notorious composition without sound, which reveals that we are all free to listen, in a musical way, to the sounds that are around us.
Cage’s creative activities were not limited to music; he was also an accomplished writer and an artist. His writings include more than ten volumes of essays and poetry. As a visual artist he worked in printmaking, drawing, etching, and watercolors. Cage left a legacy of works that had a profound influence on artists from a wide variety of disciplines. He also looked beyond the arts to larger political and social issues, and his open-minded musical pluralism is a model for the way we might approach the richness of cultural life in the twenty-first century.
Born in 1931 in Kansas City, Missours, Robert Morris turned to art and art criticism after studying engineering, eventually writing a 1966 master’s thesis on Constantin Brancusi at Hunter College, New York. Since then, Morris has continued to write influential critical essays, four of which serve as a thumbnail chronology of his most important work: task-oriented dance (Some Notes on Dance, 1965), Minimalist sculpture (Notes on Sculpture, 1968), Process Art (Anti Form, 1968), and Earthworks (Aligned with Nazca, 1975). During the 1950s, Morris grew interested in dance while living in San Francisco with his wife, the dancer and choreographer Simone Forti. After moving to New York in 1959, they participated in a loose-knit confederation of dancers known as the Judson Dance Theater, for which Morris choreographed a number of works, including Arizona (1963), 21.3 (1964), Site (1964), and Waterman Switch (1965). During the 1960s and 1970s, Morris played a central role in defining three principal artistic movements of the period: Minimalist sculpture, Process Art, and Earthworks. In fact, Morris created his earliest Minimalist objects as props for his dance performances—hence the rudimentary wooden construction of these boxlike forms, which reflected the Judson Dance Theater’s emphasis on function over expression. Morris exhibited entire rooms of these nondescript architectural elements at the Green Gallery, New York, in 1964 and 1965. In the latter half of the 1960s, Morris explored more elaborate industrial processes for his Minimalist sculpture, using materials such as aluminum and steel mesh. Like these industrial fabrications, a series of Neo-Dada sculptures Morris created in the 1960s also challenged the myth of artistic self-expression. These included ironic “self-portraits” consisting of sculpted brains and electroencephalogram readouts as well as other works directly inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s quasi-scientific investigations of perception and measurement. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the rigid plywood and steel of Morris’s Minimalist works gave way to the soft materials of his experiments with Process Art. Primary among these materials was felt, which Morris piled, stacked, and hung from the wall in a series of works that investigated the effects of gravity and stress on ordinary materials. A variety of these felt works were shown in 1968 at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York. Subsequent projects Morris made during the late 1960s and early 1970s include indoor installations of such unorthodox materials as dirt and thread waste, which resisted deliberate shaping into predetermined forms, and monumental outdoor Earthworks. Since the 1970s, Morris has explored such varied mediums as blindfolded drawings, mirror installations, encaustic paintings, and plaster and fiberglass castings, and themes ranging from nuclear holocaust to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. Numerous museums have hosted solo exhibitions of his work, including Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1970), the Art Institute of Chicago (1980), the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art (1986), and Washington, D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery of Art (1990). In 1994, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, organized a major retrospective of the artist’s work, which traveled to the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg and the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris. The artist lives in New York City and Gardiner, New York.
Holley Farmer is a dancer known for her work with Merce Cunningham and Twyla Tharp. Merce created twelve original roles for her. Her performances include multiple seasons at Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Paris Opera, Théâtre de la Ville, the Barbican, and venues in 23 countries. She is the recipient of the New York Dance and Performance Award “Bessie” for sustained achievement. In the years 1997-2009 she premiered with (music) Takehisa Kosugi, Brian Eno, Gavin Bryars, Christian Wolff, Christian Marclay, Radiohead, Sigur Rós, Mikel Rouse, John Paul Jones, Sonic Youth (design) Rei Kawakubo, Roy Lichtenstein, Paul Kaiser, Shelley Eshkar, Robert Rauschenberg, Charles Long, Terry Winters, among others. In 2010 she danced on Broadway originating the principle role of “Babe” in Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly Away for which she received an Astaire Award Nomination. Recently she was presented as a solo artist at New York Live Arts and the Museum of Arts and Design. She holds a BFA From Cornish College of the Arts and an MFA in Dance from the University of Washington. She has also danced for the Theatre Ballet of Canada, The Phantom of the Opera directed by Harold Prince, and the Oakland Ballet.