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  • ICAA Record ID
    Dietrich, Malow
    John Cage : music of changes

    Spielraum-Raumspiele : Kunstausstellung zu den 2. -- Mainz, Germany : NewLit Verlagsgesellschaft, 1982

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    Book/pamphlet article – Other

    Dietrich, Mahlow. “John Cag : Music of Changes.” In Spielraum-Raumspiele: Kunstausstellung zu den 2. Exh., cat., Mainz, Germany: NewLit Verlagsgesellschaft, 1982.

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This document shows a fragment of the score, Music of Changes, by the American composer John Cage, to be presented as an accompaniment to Gego’s environmental work, Reticulárea, in the exhibition Spielraum-Raumspiele [Play Room/Play Space] at the Alte Oper [Old Opera House] in Frankfurt (1982). Alongside the score, a brief text explains the origin of the score, which reinterprets the novel, Finnegans Wake (1922–39), by the Irish author, James Joyce, through a method Cage derived from the I Ching [Book of Changes]. The text concludes with a quote from Cage himself: “Let us realize once and for all that the lines we draw are not straight.”


In 1982, Dietrich Mahlow, a German curator and critic who was a friend of Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt, 1912–1994), invited her to participate in a group exhibition at the Alte Oper in Frankfurt. The title of the show was Spielraum-Raumspiele, and it opened on August 28. In four months, Gego created a new Reticulárea to be exhibited in the Liszt room of the Old Opera House. The piece was accompanied by a complex musical work entitled Roaratorio, An Irish Circus On Finnegans Wake (1979) by the American composer, poet, essayist, and visual artist, John Cage (1912–1992). Based on information provided in a note that precedes this document in the exhibition catalog, Roaratorio [a mix of roaring and oratorio] by Cage would be played live twice every day in the room where Reticulárea was being shown. It is not specified who wrote the explanatory notes for either this text or the one that preceded it, although we can assume they were written by the exhibition curator, Dietrich Mahlow, whose signature appears at the top of the first text on Gego in the exhibition catalog.

However, the score shown in the catalog, Music of Changes, is a piece written for piano by Cage in 1951. It is also not known whether this work was to be included in the composer’s program for the room, along with Roaratorio (1979), although given the way Cage conceived his recitals, it would not have been surprising.

This document is of interest based on the curatorial approach of each of the two creative works. First, there is Cage’s extremely difficult work based on his project to provide a soundscape for the James Joyce work, Finnegans Wake (1922­–39). This novel, which was considered one of the most complex literary works, is framed within the English language. Written in a polylinguistic, idiosyncratic language, its vague purpose—or so say the critics—is to follow the unconscious flow of the author’s dreams, at the same time, a real phenomenon with a universal reading. To achieve his own purpose, Cage combines street sounds, traditional Irish music, and readings from lines of the novel’s text, which form the word JAMESJOYCE (as a mesostic). The effect is multidimensional, though not harmonic. Second, we have the approach by Gego with her environmental work Reticulárea, consisting of lines and webs with different ranges that intersect, connect, and end up occupying the entire narrative and architectural space. The dialogue between the two approaches must have created an extraordinary response in Germany.

This document is one of the texts selected for the bilingual book, Desenredando la red. La Reticulárea de Gego. Una antología de respuestas críticas / Untangling the Web: Gego’s Reticulárea, An Anthology of Critical Response, María Elena Huizi and Ester Crespin (organizers)—to be published in 2013 by The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Fundación Gego in Caracas.


Josefina Manrique
Fundación Mercantil, Caracas, Venezuela