100 Waltzes for John Cage

In 1977 John Cage was commissioned by Rolling Stone Magazine to create a fine art piece to commemorate the magazine’s move to New York City. The resulting work was titled 49 Waltzes for the 5 Boroughs.

Cage constructed his "waltzes" through chance operations as a series of 49 multi-colored triangles superimposed on the Hagstrom map of New York City (as seen in the image to the left). Later, he published a score for "performer(s) or listener(s) or record maker(s)" with the exact street locations depicted by each point of the triangle. However he left no real instructions on how he desired the performers to interact with the information except to include familiar waltz melodies played by the musicians, and the work, it seems, was only “performed” once, in the form of a now out of print recording.

In honor of John Cage’s 100th birthday celebration, Kevin James has created a concert-length homage which intuits how Cage might have approached the project, if he had possessed the technological tools that we have easily at our disposal today.

The work is titled 100 Waltzes for John Cage. It is a randomly-evolving soundscape made up of 9 transient iPad-equipped musicians, 100 waltzes, quad speakers & audio from 147 New York City locations in a sublime expression of "the 10,000 things".

The work is modeled on the techniques of 49 Waltzes for the 5 Boroughs - specifically the use of the I-Ching to randomly select 147 locations in New York City. However, in James’ version the 64 hexagram possibilities correlate to the minutes and seconds of GPS locations (instead of grid marks in a Hagstrom Map book) and recordings of the ambient natural (or unnatural) environment are made at each of those locations. In performance these ambient sounds are delivered through quad speakers placed at the corners of the performance space. The length of each sample, the entrance time of the following sample and the pair of speakers delivering the sound are all completely randomized.


The “100 Waltzes” referred to in the title are divided among the 9 musicians through similar methods of randomization - page number, staff number and number of bars from a given sample are chosen through the I-Ching. The length of time the performer spends on a given waltz, where they sit in relation to the other performers, when they move to a new seat, when and whether they are allowed to improvise, are all determined randomly through programming on their iPad music stands.

excerpt from the

premiere performance

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