100 x John

During the year 2012, Ear to the Earth put out a call to composers and sound artists around the world for compositions and/or sounds to salute John Cage in the 100th anniversary year of his birth.

In 1937, addressing a group of artists brought together by Bonnie Bird at the Cornish School of Fine Arts in Seattle, John Cage gave a talk titled The Future of Music: Credo. He said, "I believe that the use of noise to make music will continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the aid of electrical instruments which will make available for musical purposes any and all sounds that can be heard ..."

As a salute to Cage for his leadership in what Joel Chadabe called "the great opening up of music to all sounds", and in the spirit of the 100th anniversary year of his birth, we built a list of 100 compositions and sounds — all based on field recordings, natural and urban, some using traditional instruments and voice — by composers and sound artists around the world. It is a global salute to John Cage.

All of the compositions and sounds were collected and made available online. Many of the compositions and sounds were presented in a 4-day festival at White Box Art Center in New York from December 20 — 23, 2012. What follows here is an introduction to some of the people who participated in the festival, a selection of compositions and sounds that were presented, and several compositions and sounds that were in the collection but not presented in the festival.

Luke DuBois performed imagery.


The compositions and sounds were ...

"Altimira Station at Dawn was recorded in November 2011 a few minutes after dawn, in the secondary forest / cloud forest of the Altamira sector. Altamira is a Costarican rangers station in La Amsitad International Park, shared between Panama and Costa Rica, one of the most preserved and wild of Central America.

Rodolphe Alexis, Altimira Station at Dawn

"This recording was done in Orvieto, Italy, during the classic automobile race called 'La Castellana'. There were different cars involved—BMW, Maserati and others—but the sound of the 1937 Mercedes Benz W 125 was special. Weighing 1900 pounds, it had an engine of 640 horsepower. Peter Collins drove it to 200 miles per hour."

Walter Bianchi, Silver Arrow

"These sounds, recorded in a cave 700 hundreds meters underground in Eastern Serbia, are from striking stalactites, some of them huge magnificent sculptures a few meters high, some of them thick, some very thin and transparent like alabaster. I used my hands, pieces of stone, mostly hard-wood hand-made drum sticks."

Arsenije Jovanovic, Resava Variations

"This piece contains 100 recordings—10 second sound snapshots, if you will—made in the Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens in Daylesford, Victoria, Australia, on the mornings of Monday April 2 and Friday April 6. Wombat Hill is an extinct (we hope) volcano and the village of Daylesford is built upon its slopes."

Warren Burt, View from Wombat Hill

24 Stunden Viki 02 is a 24-hour audio portrait of the Viktoria-Luise-Platz, Berlin, represented in six segments of four hours each. This is segment 2, from 4am to 8am.

Thomas Gerwin, 24 Stunden Viki 02

Paul Geluso performed Under the Delaware, then presented other compositions and sounds.


"Here is a sound recording made from capturing the sound of the Delaware River at its headwaters in Delaware County, New York State. I used 2 mono-hydrophone microphones for left and right channels. Nothing more."

Paul Geluso, Under the Delaware

"Confluence is the final composition on the album Transient Landscapes. After exploring processed field recordings from rivers across the world this work returns to Australia venturing deep into the ocean near the Colored Sands on the Cooloola Coast of Australia. The work revolves around Wolf Rock, one of Australia’s most distinctive and diverse aquatic landscapes and home to a large population of endangered Grey Nurse sharks. This draws on the concept of all rivers ultimately leading to the same body of water. Featuring Richard Haynes on Bass Clarinet with processing site-specific hydrophone recordings."

Leah Barclay, Confluence

"Psarocolius Montezuma, the ornithological name for the Oropendola (a bird native to Guatemala), represents the Mayan culture. Authentic Mayan aerophones constitute a coherent whole of time articulation and frequency while electronic sounds are transformations of the birds' chants."

David de Gandarias, Psarocolius Montezuma

"The sounds are of water ... dry ice bubbling in water, hydrophone recordings from the shallows of Tomales Bay, in northern California, percussive rain falling on an inverted galvanized steel bucket, a faulty washer in a faucet ..."

Maggi Payne, Wet

"This is about the demise of a traditional fishing industry at the hands of the construction of a new nuclear power station at Dungeness Beach, Kent, in the UK. It is also where artist Derek Jarman, a good friend of John Cage, lived and created his much-loved sculpture garden from debris from the sea. The sounds include a squeaking rusty old fisherman's winch, used for pulling the boats in from the sea up over the steep shingle banks on the beach."

Jo Langton, On Dungeness Beach

"A short recording of metal gates at the Ventana, Big Sur, California, April 2012. Recordings were made hand-held with Sony D-50 (unedited)."

Robert Scott Thompson, Vengtana Gates 1 Big Sur

Tom Beyer presented his Clearwater Soundscape and other compositions.


"This recording is a mix of several recordings made on the Clearwater Sloop during a sail in the Hudson River in 2011."

Tom Beyer, Clearwater Soundscape


"This recording was made at 3am, April 5, 2011, at Gorak Shep, Nepal, which, at an altitude of 16,500 feet (around 5,200 meters), is the last village before Everest Base Camp. My tent was in the middle of hundreds of yaks that were parked there in the evening and awakened to carry equipment to the Base Camp just as I started recording. I stopped the recorder when my hand was about to freeze. The temperature was about -15 degrees centigrade (5 degrees fahrenheit)."

Amandine Pras, Yaks at Gorak Shep


"The reindeer herders of the northern Mongolian mountains, known as the Tsaatan, consider themselves the stewards of these precious endangered animals. Like their wards, the number of these people is rapidly dwindling and now stands at only about 350 families. In the winter of 2001, I was invited to accompany a household of 8 people, 29 reindeer, 35 horses, and 3 dogs on their annual 21-day migration through Siberia between their summer and winter grazing grounds. The journey took us over remote, rugged mountains as high as Mont Blanc, where temperatures averaged -30 F. Without compass or maps, this small family caravan migrated from where the borders of Siberia touch the northernmost tip of Mongolia to their summer grazing grounds further south, near Lake Hovsgol. When we stopped every evening, the reindeer scratched the snow with their hoofs to get at the grass underneath."

Julia Calfee, Reindeers in the Snow

The Geoscope Observatory is a global network of broadband seismic stations that continuously record ground motion. Data from most of the stations arrive in real-time to the IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris) Data Center where they are validated and archived. This sound file was created in Paris by Nicolas Leroy, Jean-Philippe Lambert, and Norbert Schnell, representing seismic data of 9 days starting from the morning of March 9th, 2011, as registered in the Canberra Station in Australia. The sound file is derived from the measurement of the velocity of vertical ground movements that originally consist of a stream of 20 values per second. By transposing the measured sequence of values 2400 times, the whole spectrum of captured movements falls into the range of audible frequencies. Due to the transposition, the rhythm of day and night appears in the sound file as the modulation of sound textures in the highest frequency bands increasing and decreasing over 36 seconds for each 24 hours. The Tohoku earthquake of March 11 in Japan occurs in the sound just after 1 min 32 secs.

Nicolas Leroy, Jean-Philippe Lambert, and Norbert Schnell, Geoscope Sample

"Percussive sounds and recordings of the East River, Cage's apartment, The New School, and recordings of Cage's works are selected, arranged, and triggered by elements of Cage’s prosody, then cross-synthesized with his voice, very much as if he himself were composing the piece."

Guy Barash, Cage(d)


"While I recorded in Catania, Sicily, I noticed that in the market called 'Fera o lune' only men sold articles and shouted out. I also recorded the sounds in a church in which I had noticed that the recitation of the rosary was always performed only by women. In capturing the sounds of the market and the church, I emphasized types of opposition in the activities I heard: external environment (market)/internal(church), individuality/togetherness, masculine/feminine, competition/shared purpose, selling/prayer, and so on."

Alessandro Cipriani, Sonografia n.1: Catania

"When walking through the Marais District in Paris in 2007, from IRCAM back to my hotel, I noticed an old piano in the street outside a restaurant — the following is a short performance which led to a rather delicious dinner."

Garth Paine, Paris Piano Only

"This is an excerpt from 'A Sound Map of the Housatonic River', an installation tracing the course of the Housatonic River from the sources in the Berkshire mountains to the river's mouth at Milford, Long Island Sound. The excerpt starts in Connecticut at the confluence of the Pootatuck River and the Housatonic, Sandy Hook, and moves to Jackson Cove, underwater. I recorded at the surface and underwater, not from boats but along the riverbanks at many sites, thus mirroring the changing river-created environment. The energy flow of a river can be sensed very directly through the sounds created by the friction between current and riverbanks, current and riverbed."

Annea Lockwood, A Sound Map of the Housatonic River

This composition is based on field recordings of Manhattan sounds. The recordings used were a Harlem soundwalk, 125th Street traffic, Morningside Park light rain, 116th Street Shabaaz Market, 116th Street subway, store interiors, and a few more. His technique was to use Kyma, a major sound-production system, to cross-filter the field recorded sounds by playing his guitar. This technique combines the field recordings with the guitar sounds in such a way that you hear the result of the combination rather than the sounds themselves. As Lainhart put it, "What you hear is the interaction between me and my environment."

Richard Lainhart, Manhattan Sounds

A Bronx Tale is based mainly on field recordings done in September 2011 in the Hunts Point neighborhood in the Bronx. Including street sounds and voices, a visit to a church, and sounds encountered in lengthy soundwalks, the recordings were done by Milica Paranosic with students — Melvin Zapata, Efrain Perez, Edward Bonner, and Austin Saint Rosa — at The Point, a neighborhood arts center. The first performance, which included other electronics and live performed vocals, took place at The Point on October 19, 2011.

Milica Paranosic, A Bronx Tale

"Lopez is known for his powerful treatments of environmental sounds that emphasize and focus on the unique qualities of the place in which the sounds originate. In New York, he asked, "What are the soundmarks of New York City?" His answer was that the soundmarks of New York are in the interiors of buildings. Consequently, the sounds of Buildings [New York] come from the windy, man-made landscape of machine rooms, elevator shafts, and heating systems of the city's office and residential buildings. In this composition, Lopez positioned the harsh, raw, pulsating elements of the towering tunnels of New York into a lyrical and powerful fabric of sounds."

Francisco Lopez, Buildings

"In November of 2011, we spent a wonderful long weekend doing field recordings with Joel Chadabe on Broadway, between W 79th Street and W 66th Street. We recorded cafe conversation, birds, traffic sounds and street jazz ... The end result was reminiscent of both the Cage City Pieces and the deconstructed jazz of Joel's After Some Songs. Joel jokingly suggested we call it 'Broadway Boogie Woogie', inspired by the paintings by Piet Mondrian. The title stuck."

William Blakeney, Broadway Boogie Woogie

Singing in the subway, New York City.

Janeil Engelstad, F Line: 57 Street / 6 Ave Station

The last concert was Shelley Hirsch performing voice with Katherine Liberovskaya performing images.