Petar Milat: "Tiny Nothings" – John Cage in Zagreb 1985

From 2003 to 2011, the Multimedia Institute and its curator Petar Milat hosted at the Music Biennale Zagreb the leading figures of contemporary music and theory such as the Zeitkratzer ensemble, Christian Fennesz, Maja Ratkje, Ikue Mori, Stephan Mathieu, Peter Szendy, Jonathan Sterne, Mladen Dolar, and many others. From 2012 on, the Multimedia Institute has also organized a project dedicated to Luc Ferrari and his seminal piece Presque Rien No. 1 recorded in 1968 in Vela Luka on the Dalmatian island of Korčula, which included musicians Lawrence English and Thomas Köner, filmmakers Ana Hušman and Davor Sanvincenti or the writer László Krasznahorkai.

At the 2019 MBZ we will launch Tiny Nothings – a new project and a tribute to one of the most iconic events in the Biennale's history: a world premiere of John Cage's composition A Collection of Rocks held on April 19, 1985 at the Lisinski Concert Hall.

To quote Cage's 1985 introductory notes in full: "In 1982, I was asked by André Dimanche to design a cover for Pierre Lartigue's translation of my Mushroom Book. This is a part of his series of fifteen books called Editions Ryoan-ji, all of which are paper-backed with a paper that reminds of raked sand. My suggestion for the cover of my book was that I draw some fifteen stones (fifteen is the number of stones in the Ryoan-ji garden in Kyoto) placed at I Ching-determined points on a grid the size of the cover plus the flaps and it was accepted.

In January 1983, I went to the Crown Point Press to make the etchings and took the same fifteen stones with me, but soon found out that what can be done with pencil on paper cannot be done with a needle on copper. The mystery produced by pencils disappeared, reappearing on copper only when the number of stones was multiplied (225:15 x 15; 3375:15 x 15 x 15).

I have had for some time a large indoor garden in New York. I was inspired for it by a 20x20 foot pyramidal skylight and eleven large windows on the east and south. It now contains over two hundred plants of various kinds and between them I have placed large and small rocks that I brought from my tours or that were sometimes brought by a car from the New River in Virginia by Ray Kass or from the Duke Forest in North Carolina by Irwin Kremen, after I had chosen them in situ. Though I couldn't live with sculpture when I was younger, now I find that I love the immobility and the calm of a stone in place.

On the other side of the eleven windows are the noises of the Sixth Avenue, which go on all night. I have found a way of translating burglar alarms (a constant, unchanging insistent sound in New York) into Brancusi-like images while I was sleeping. This has resulted in me finding pleasure not only in the unpredictable, ever-changing sounds of metropolitan traffic as I long have, but also in the immobile never-stopping sounds associated with modern convenience and comfort (refrigerator, humidifier, computer, feedback, etc.).

Picking up Salt Seller, the Writings of Marcel Duchamp, I read: Musical Sculpture: Sounds lasting and leaving from different places and forming a sounding sculpture which lasts. That is what I meant A Collection of Rocks to be. It is for Marcel Duchamp, who, as he said, must have been fifty years ahead of his time and should never be forgotten.

There are fifteen rocks. Each is made of three, four, or five sounds. There are sixty-five points in the performing space. There are twenty-two different sound-producing groups of musicians, each divided into two parts so that a tone can be made to last, the second group spelling the first when the first is losing its breath. There are no conductors, each group has two chronometers. Each group performs three times from three different points in space. The piece lasts twenty minutes. Longer versions (11/2, 2, 21/2, 3 times as long as the present version) may also be performed. The musicians must move in order to play from a different position. The audience is free to move around. We are back in the world of traffic, at home, that is to say, in our own time."

Artists launching Tiny Nothings in 2019 – Taylor Deupree, Bruce McClure, Alex Mendizabal, Hrvoslava Brkušić & Hrvoje Nikšić – share many of Cage's aesthetic predilections and we hope that their search for a novel plasticity of sound, in-between geology and music, will have an equal response to the imperatives of our present time.


Petar Milat