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David Tudor (1926–1996) was an American pianist and composer of experimental music who became known as the leading interpreter of piano compositions by John Cage and musical director for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Guided by Getty Research Institute curator, Nancy Perloff, and deputy director, Andrew Perchuk, we dig into the GRI’s David Tudor archives, a collection of scores, notes, preparatory performance materials, correspondence, printed matter, and more than 500 audiotapes.

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JIM CUNO:  Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.

NANCY PERLOFF:  The whole art of the piece is choosing the right objects, the right source sounds, and then creating an environment where people can actually touch it, feel it, hear it, bite it. Kids go nuts.

CUNO:  In this episode, I speak with Getty Research Institute curator, Nancy Perloff, and deputy director, Andrew Perchuk, about the David Tudor archive at the Getty.

In 1994 the Getty Research Institute acquired the personal archive of the virtuoso avant-garde pianist and composer David Tudor, who was perhaps best known as the leading interpreter of piano music by John Cage and as a member of, and eventually musical director for, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

Tudor met Cage through the composer Morton Feldman in 1950, and in 1951 he first collaborated with Cage on the monumental piano composition Music of Changes. That same year, Tudor began teaching at Black Mountain College, and there he and Feldman worked with Cage and Cunningham until 1953. It was also at Black Mountain that Tudor met the poet, translator, and potter Mary Caroline Richards, with whom he later became romantically involved. In 1954 Tudor and Richards moved to Stony Point, New York, where with Cage and architect Paul Williams they formed a commune they called Land.

The David Tudor Archive at the Getty Research Institute constitutes a complete record of Tudor’s activity as a performer and composer who often incorporated visual elements like sculptures, found objects, video, light circuits into his live electronic work. It contains scores, notes, preparatory performance materials and realizations, correspondence, printed matter on electronics, and more than 500 audiotapes. Together this rich and varied material documents the creative output of a pioneer whose work was the catalyst for some of the most significant artistic innovations of the postwar period, including indeterminacy, graphic notation, and live electronic music performance.

I recently met with Nancy and Andrew to explore the archive. We started out in the archive itself.

PERLOFF:  Okay. We are standing in the aisle of the David Tudor archive. And almost the entire aisle is filled—I’d say about two-thirds, is filled with boxes. Both, you know, standard Hollinger boxes and oversized boxes from this archive. It’s organized very, very clearly and carefully by correspondence, programs, musical scores, scores by David Tudor, scores by other composers.

ANDREW PERCHUK:  It’s a row of shelves that’s about fifteen feet tall by about thirty feet wide. And so the David Tudor archive is probably about—what would you say, Nancy, about 150 or 200 linear feet?

PERLOFF:  Close to 200 linear feet. And there’re actually many other sections of this archive. There’s a whole section on his electronic material, clippings, notes, and so forth that he wrote. There’s another section on, I think, other notes. There’s a section on projects, a big section on project files, because he was quintessentially a collaborator and he was working in experiments in art and technology and many other—both individuals and groups. The archive really covers every aspect that kind of truly defines an archive. All those kinds of sections are represented.

We continued our conversation in the Getty’s Special Collections Library, where Nancy and Andrew had spread out a selection of items from the Tudor archive to look at together.

PERCHUK:  This is the oldest piece of material we have.

CUNO:  Oh, this is from  Black Mountain. This is when John Cage was championing Erik Satie, right?

PERCHUK:  So this is a program for The Ruse of Medusa, which is a Satie opera that was done at Black Mountain in 1948, translated from the French by M. C. Richards, with a cast of characters that included Buckminster Fuller, Elaine de Kooning, Merce Cunningham, and is—

CUNO:  Directed by Arthur Penn, [Perloff: Mm-hm] with dances by Cunningham, piano by John Cage, [Perloff: Mm-hm] then then décor by Willem and Elaine de Kooning.

PERLOFF:  Mm, mm.

CUNO:  [over Perloff] That was the summer in which Cage and Cunningham came for the summer, right? ’Cause [Perloff: Exactly] like maybe their first summer there?

PERLOFF:  They had been there in the spring. They came in April, on their way to the West Coast. And then they were invited back. And it’s kind of a touching story. When they left in the spring, everybody—Josef Albers and everybody there—had no money but were so grateful for their presence in April that they gave— You know, they put flowers and food and everything they could think of in their car as they left, and they invited them back. And then in the summer is when there was the—the fight, really, between the French and the German, and Satie defenders versus Beethoven defenders. And there was a Satie festival that—that John Cage organized. And at this time, nobody had really heard of Erik Satie. Nobody had paid any attention. So Cage really reimagined—

PERCHUK:  [over Perloff] Well, and avant-garde music really was in the line of Schoenberg on, that very—

CUNO:  [over Perchuk] Well, as— Yeah, exactly. Webern, [Perchuk: Exactly] Berg. Yeah.

PERCHUK:  That very Germanic line. And so Cage really radically changed that by presenting a concert every evening of Satie.

PERLOFF:  Schoenberg was his teacher, and Schoenberg said, “You’ll never really be a composer, ’cause you don’t understand harmony. And—and you’ll beat your head against a wall.” And Cage replied, “I’ll be happy beating my head against a wall.” But the—the Beethoven group were the harmony people, and Satie was all about duration. Whole different idea.

CUNO:  [over Perloff] Yeah, I can see—in this case, you’ve got Schoenberg and Stefan Wolpe, who I—who I mentioned earlier, grouped together, together with Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, John Cage, Pierre Boulez, Anton Webern. And this was in when—we don’t—do we know the year?

PERLOFF:  This is ’51. We do know. August 19, 1951. So Cage was not actually present at this concert, but Tudor is performing the first part of the Music of Changes. And then he performs the full Music of Changes—in ’52, when Cage is present. And Andrew and I are thinking these programs were probably printed on the Black Mountain College Press.

CUNO:  Well, but take us back to ’48, that—that important summer. Is that the summer in which the Merce Cunningham Dance Company is effectively formed?

PERLOFF:  No, [Cuno: When does that happen?] not until ’53.

CUNO:  ’53?

PERLOFF:  We have, actually, a—an amazing program that we discovered just the other day. This is a program of dance music. It says, “Two programs of dances.” Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, and Caroline Brown is listed. Anita Denks. David Tudor worked with her, [Cuno: Viola Farber] Viola Farber, Remy Charlip. So some really important names. So we think this is the inaugural program for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company [Perloff: Oh] in 1953.

PERLOFF:  I think we found—

PERCHUK:  And one of the things that’s truly extraordinary about it is that it looks like a Rauschenberg White painting. It’s white type on white paper.

CUNO:  Yeah, it’s typeset without ink, huh? Or is there white ink?

PERLOFF:  It’s relief, isn’t it?

CUNO:  Yeah.

PERCHUK:  Yeah, I think it’s—I think it’s embossed.

PERLOFF:  [over Perchuk] It’s—it’s a kind of a relief.

CUNO:  Yeah?

PERLOFF:  Yeah, it’s embossed. I thought there was actually a date. I thought it said ’53.

CUNO:  [over Perloff] Well, here’s Cunningham and Company, part two. Merce Cunningham and Company.

PERLOFF:  Let’s just see.

PERCHUK:  Here’s—here’s the first page of it.

PERLOFF:  Oh, okay. Oh, okay. Right. Suite by Chance, two programs of dances. Here. ’53. Here we go. I thought I’d seen it. So August 21, 1953, part one, student work, Black Mountain College. And then some of this is a little hard to read. Intermission. Part two, Cunningham and Company, Collage, Variation, Banjo, Dime a Dance. Isn’t that a famous one, [Cuno: Yeah] Dime a Dance?

CUNO:  Oh, that’s—I don’t know.

PERCHUK:  Yes, it is.

PERLOFF:  That sounds—that’s sounds so familiar. But these are remarkable.

CUNO:  Yeah. so this is ’53, you say.

PERLOFF:  ’53. [Cuno: Uh-huh]

PERCHUK:  So that was the summer that the Merce Cunningham Company came together, where Merce Cunningham brought seven dancers from New York, along with Tudor and Cage, and founded the company. So they spent the, really, most of the summer on the formation, with Cage writing music, with Tudor working on the realization, and with the dancers and Merce Cunningham rehearsing. And of course, one of the founding ideas of the company was that the music and dance, unlike almost all dance that we know of, doesn’t go together.

CUNO:  Right. Pur—purposely not. They’re independent of each other, right?

PERCHUK:  They’re purposely [Cuno: Yeah] independent of each other.

CUNO:  Yeah, yeah.

PERLOFF:  This is a program, late 1953. So subsequent to the—the work in the summer at Black Mountain. And it’s just, you know, lovely to see. And you—you get a sense of some—you know, pretty much the same participants that we were just looking at. John Cage, musical director, so that’s established; David Tudor, pianist; choreography by Merce Cunningham, in a whole set of programs. In fact, this is the same program, or very similar, to what we were looking at. Banjo, Suite by Chance. [Cuno: Yeah] So Suite by Chance was Christian Wolff.

CUNO:  Right, right.

PERLOFF:  Music by Christian Wolff. [Cuno: Yeah] So all of that—

CUNO:  And John Cage and Erik Satie, twice.

PERLOFF:  Yeah, yeah. Septet. So—

PERCHUK:  And Suite by Chance was Merce Cunningham using some of the same chance operations to construct a dance that John Cage was using to do a musical composition.

CUNO:  Mm-hm. Do we have a sense of what David Tudor was doing in the intervening months, between summers at Black Mountain College? I mean, he was performing at the piano, but was he making a living performing at the piano?

PERLOFF:  What I know for sure—and you said it in your introduction—that at a certain key moment in the fifties, he started regularly going to Darmstadt. Now, I don’t remember what—what year that was. But he was on the faculty at Darmstadt. And that’s when La Monte Young first encountered David Tudor and David Tudor performed. That’s when David Tudor met Luciano Berio, Karlheinz Stockhausen. And we have in the David Tudor archive, just as a parentheses, an incredible correspondence of letters from Stockhausen to David Tudor. Detailed pen, handwritten, precise indications of how he wanted Tudor to perform. So how he made a living prior and— In fact, this is a perfect segue, that question. Here’s a letter from David Tudor to Mary Caroline Richards, chairman of the faculty at Mountain, very early. May 24th. I know for sure that this is 1951. And I know because of what he says he’s doing. He’s been invited to come for the summer. He’s a little concerned, because he’s playing at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Being paid to do a series. And he’s a little concerned about the window of time in between leaving Boulder and coming to Black Mountain. He needs to be paid. And can he come early or should he come later? So it’s an amazing, very polite, very formal letter from him to Miss Richards.

CUNO:  In her capacity as chairman of the faculty.

PERLOFF:  As chairman of the faculty, yes. And so that, to me, begins to tell you of a kind of hand-to-mouth. You know, he—he’s on the faculty performing at Boulder, he goes to Black Mountain. What precisely he did in the fall, then, of ’51, I’d have to, you know, look and follow more closely. But I think—

PERCHUK:  And this is before, I take it then, that Mary Caroline Richards and David Tudor are partners.

PERLOFF:  Yes, way before. Yeah, he had never met her when he wrote this letter. She had invited him. His reputation after doing the Boulez propelled him, or—or I should say just was propelled. And so she is here inviting, and you can kind of get a sense of how Black Mountain was creating programs and inviting important artists.

CUNO:  But being recognized for being able to perform extraordinarily difficult, technical, and artistic pieces like the Deuxième Sonate by Boulez doesn’t necessarily make you a pop idol, does it? What else is beneath this letter from Mary Caroline Richards? [Perloff: Oh] Is that—is that a collection of different letters?

PERLOFF:  It—it is. It’s a…

CUNO:  [over Perloff] Well, here’s one in which it seems to be quite—

PERLOFF :  …set of correspondence, and that’s a love letter. That was a lover letter to her.

CUNO:  [over Perloff] Yes, he’s being quite personal. “Darling, my heart’s desire…

PERLOFF:  This is actually—

CUNO:  [over Perloff] “…I started this letter a long time past, but no time to finish it until now. Miss you like hellfire. Look back sometimes to see whether you are there after all. Am completely cut off in so-and-so’s company this time. He used to be peaceful, but something is eating him now.” Is that J’s company? You think that’s John Cage’s company?

PERLOFF:  Maybe. Maybe.

CUNO:  “Just seems more and more cantankerous. Have spent some time watching him with his children.” Well, that’s not John Cage, then. [Perloff: No] “And with Theos—Theosophical friends. And I’m getting a glimmer of what it is all really—” And he goes on and on. Signed by David. “Love you, David.” And it’s also talking about Artaud. So this is the time in which they’re embracing the theatrical so—sort of project of Antonin Artaud. “The Artaud is in a small envelope. I’m sure it’s somewhere in the front room. Look in my closets and near the warm clothes. Keep warm. I’m sending out all kinds of flames. Hope some of them reach you. Love you, David.” [Perloff: Yeah] So clearly, they were already together as a—as a couple.

PERLOFF:  [over Cuno] Yes.

PERCHUK:  And one of the interesting things you point out, Jim, is that—how rarefied and difficult— So Mary Caroline Richards starts her translation of Artaud’s The Theater and Its Double from a typescript that David Tudor made of the French manuscript, which he had borrowed someone’s—someone in—European’s paperback. And so these things were really not available to people until much later than the early 1950s.

CUNO:  Was her translation of Artaud the one that we all read in college?

PERCHUK:  Yes, it was.

CUNO:  Wow.

PERLOFF:  We actually have—we’re kind of surrounded by a range of different things. This is some more Merce Cunningham material. We do have some of the documentation on Artaud, which comes from the Mary Caroline Richards archive there, part of her translation and then a lecture she gave on Artaud. Artaud was important to everyone, beginning with Tudor. It affected how he played, how he performed Boulez. This idea of no continuity. This, I just pulled out. It’s a fragment. It’s a photograph that isn’t specifically documented, but roughly 1961. But it apparently resembles the staging of Cage’s so-called first Happening which was known as Theater Piece Number 1. And it was, what Andrew, fifty—?

PERCHUK:  ’51.

PERLOFF:  ’51.

PERCHUK:  ’52, sorry.

PERLOFF:  ’52, when we see the ladder that I think—

PERCHUK:  [over Perloff] Charles Olson and Mary Caroline Richards read poetry…

CUNO:  [over Perchuk] This is at Black Mountain, or where is this?

PERLOFF:  This is at Black Mountain. Or it was at Black Mountain. This is a restaging, later in ’61. But from various research sources, it resembles what was done, with the ladder, with kind of chairs formed in different arrangements, right?

PERCHUK:  Chairs, four triangles forming a square. So that the chairs pointed towards each other, which gave space for the performers to move in among the audience. Which was one of the things they took from Artaud, the idea that a theater-in-the-round—that you didn’t want a proscenium, you wanted the audience to be surrounding the performers.

CUNO:  And here’s a picture of David Tudor in costume in the—for the same background Happening. A costume. It looks like he’s wearing a piece of architecture on his head or—making him look half priest, half unicorn. With that stone face, [Perloff: Mm-hm] the stone face he was famous for, [Perloff: Mm-hm] the kind of Buster Keaton-looking face, [Perloff: Mm-hm] with those academic glasses. [Perloff: Mm-hm] Earlier in the recon—I guess the reproduction of it, there he is wearing a white tie and tails. Or at least a white tie with a tuxedo jacket. We can’t see the tails.

PERLOFF:  Yeah, and we’re not sure if those are related.

PERCHUK:  But as you—as you’re alluding to, Jim, one of the things about Tudor was that he was always very formal. You know, you—when you see new music today, classical new music, you often see people rather casually dressed. And Tudor was always in a dark suit, a tuxedo, white tie. You know, he did it in the same way one would do grand classical repertoire of the era.

CUNO:  Was that because he wanted it to be taken seriously? Or was it because it was part of a—a shtick?

PERLOFF:  Well, I mean, if we ch—we can come back to Merce Cunningham, ’cause we have some wonderful letters. But let’s— Speaking of the technical aspect, the formality, the virtuosity, these are wonderful examples. This photograph, Jim and Andrew, is again, a photograph in 1962, they were invited by Toshi Ichiyanagi…

CUNO:  And Da—David Tudor…

PERLOFF:  … David Tudor, and John Cage. They were formally dressed.

CUNO:  In Japan.

PERLOFF:  In Japan. I don’t know exactly what the location is. But they were there to do performances.

CUNO:  And Cage—Cage is photographed with his head within an ancient bell, and Tudor is about to hit the bell with a—with a piece of wood, you know, like a stick of wood.

PERCHUK:  [over Cuno] So it looks like a Shinto shrine.

CUNO:  Yeah.

PERCHUK:  And you know, you’re ringing the bell to summon the god. But Cage has his head— [chuckles]

CUNO:  In the bell.

PERCHUK:  In the bell.

CUNO:  The god would be summoned to his body, I suppose.

PERLOFF:  What I love, now that you’re making—Jim, you’re making me think of this, is that even though in the photograph they’re fairly far apart, they’re actually collaborating, because he’s controlling the sound that he is hearing. And so that’s a wonderful—that’s maybe why that photograph is so wonderful.

CUNO:  Are these all photographs from that trip—trip to Japan?

PERLOFF:  I wanted to just show you this one, and then I don’t know how many more there are. A number of them, actually. This one has become famous because it is the performance of Cage’s piece called Music Walk, which I think was a—one of these later performance pieces. And this is Yoko Ono lying on the top of the piano. And there is another—there’s an Italian—I’m sorry, a Japanese musician working with them, and they’re doing, you know, kind of—

CUNO:  [over Perloff] And Cage is about to hit the—the strings of the piano, [Perloff: Yeah] it—it looks like, [Perloff: Yeah] with a mallet of some kind. And Tudor looks like he’s opening and closing the lid on the piano keys, [Perloff: Yes] I’m not quite sure. But this was a famous piece, [Perloff: Yes] a famous composition, right? So we’re surrounded by other compositions, and these are by Morton Feldman and Earle Brown. [Perloff: Exactly] Tell—and tell us about these. These date from early fifties as well, huh?

PERLOFF:  Right. So this one— They’re both dedicated to David Tudor. This one, 1953, April 1953. This is a manuscript, and it really is very, very precious.

CUNO:  [over Perloff] For a piece called Intersection 3.

PERLOFF:  Intersection 3, for David Tudor. Compared to Cage’s indeterminate notation, this is pretty easy and straightforward to explain.

CUNO:  I mean, could David Tudor play the piano from this?

PERLOFF:  He played it from this.

CUNO:  This notation. He—or did he have to re-notate it for the piano?

PERLOFF:  He re-notated.

CUNO:  Uh-huh.

PERLOFF:  There are three registers on the key—on the piano. There’s the upper register, the middle register, and the lower register. The boxes represent one beat. So on that one beat, with this metronome marking, you have to play five pitches in the upper register and four in the lower register. When you get to a place like— Let’s see if I can find a good example. You get to a place like here, you’ve got six pitches in the low, two in the middle, one at top. What ends up happening is David Tudor realized it by creating tone clusters that he would hit with the elbow. So if it was, say, twelve pitches at one time, you would see twelve or more pitches at one time. He played them as clusters.

CUNO:  If this were published, if we were looking at the published score of this piece, Intersection 3, for David Tudor, would it be in the notation of David Tudor? Or would it be in the original notation of Morton Feldman?

PERLOFF:  It would be in the original notation of Morton Feldman.

CUNO:  So then every pianist would have to somehow translate Morton Feldman’s notation to his or her own notations, [Perloff: Right, right] to be able to play it.

PERLOFF:  Just a quick thing on this. You’ll see in David Tudor’s notation that there’re no—there are no measure bars. So basically, every attack is a beat. And there’s a metronome marking of 176, which I can’t tell you the precise detail, but it’s incredibly fast. So he’s playing, dump, dump, like that. I mean, it’s just whipping by. He is attacking clusters of pitches, each on another beat. So it is virtuosic and very, very fast. And Feldman actually thought Tudor wouldn’t be able to figure it out. But he always did.

CUNO:  Do we have a recording of it?

PERLOFF:  Yes, there is a recording.

CUNO: So let’s listen to a little bit of this.

[Music: Intersection 3]

That was David Tudor playing Morton Feldman’s Intersection 3. Andrew, Nancy, and I next looked at a score by the avant-garde composer Earle Brown called Four Systems from 1954.

CUNO:  How would we possibly have read Earle Brown’s intentions in this score, which as we can describe it, it looks simply like fragments of bars of ink scattered across the surface of a paper. Very much like a—like an El Lissitzky or Malevich or a Suprematist drawing from the 19—late teens, early twenties in the Soviet Union. It’s very hard to make sense of this thing. So this is obviously about duration. And—but does it tell you which notes to hit, which keys to hit on the key—board, the keyboard of the piano? Or how do you know how to make sound out of this? I can understand that you can know how to hold sound down for lengths of time; but what sounds do you know to play?

PERLOFF:  Well, it’s called Four Systems. And in fact, there are four systems. One, two, three, and four. Treble clef, bass clef, treble clef, bass clef.

CUNO:  How do you know that?

PERLOFF:  Because I understand— [chuckles] I don’t know much, but I know what a system is and I know that he’s still thinking in terms of—

CUNO:  [over Perloff] Does this correspond to any—any conventional notation? It’s entirely his notation, huh?

PERLOFF:  Earle Brown invented this. Earle Brown was very close to a lot of the Abstract Expressionists and very influenced by them, as was Feldman.

CUNO:  And the instruction he writes is, [Perloff: There is an instruction] “It may be played in any sequence, either side up, at any tempo or tempi. Pencil lines define outer limits of keyboard. Thickness may indicate dynamics or clusters.” You got it? That’s obvious to you?

PERLOFF:  Well, the only thing that I understand immediately is that, you’re absolutely right, this is duration. But if it’s thick, it could be loud amplitude, or it could be dense clusters. And that’s up to the pianist. So— And there are the upper registers. So he’s saying that, I am defining a range within which you play. But I don’t know exactly what that range is; you figure it out. But there are four systems in this piece.

CUNO:  And while he composed it for David Tudor, if it were played by Nancy Perloff, would you have the freedom to interpret those clusters differently than David Tudor did?

PERLOFF:  Yeah, I think Earle Brown—I mean, the fact that he says you can turn it upside-down— And in fact, this one, he even signed his name. So here it says, “Happy birthday, David.” And it’s Earle Brown, 1—I think that says 20, ’54.”

CUNO:  Yeah.

PERLOFF:  It’s, yeah, 20. And you turn it upside-down, and he signs it again.

CUNO:  Oh, and it corresponds to this one. So that [Perloff: Oh, they’re the same piece] composition. Yeah, I see.

PERLOFF:  [over Cuno] They’re the same piece.

CUNO:  Uh-huh.

CUNO:  Now, tell us—tell us about the relation—his relationship to Earle Brown. I mean, you know that he was close to Brown, Feldman, Cage and so forth. But— And—and Earle Brown’s wife, Carolyn Brown?…

PERLOFF:  Carolyn Brown, right.

CUNO:  …was in Merce Cunningham’s dance company, right?

PERLOFF:  Right, mm-hm.

CUNO:  So they all were in each other’s company a lot in New York. They were part of a—of the group. And well, David Tudor, did he have a role to play with—for Earle Brown as a pianist that he had to play—that he played for John Cage? Was it—were they that close?


CUNO:  Composing for each other?

PERLOFF:  No, I think David Tudor and John Cage had a very, very special collaborative relationship, which started in 1950, before Tudor really got to know Feldman and Brown that well. Brown, however, did write not only this piece, but the maybe more famous one, December 1952, which I think could be either played by a chamber group or as a—for a soloist. I think that also was for David Tudor, and we do have it in the archive. I don’t think David Tudor and Earle Brown were close for that long. But there’s the famous Capitol Records photograph, which would be nice to have, actually, in this podcast. You can pull it right off the web. It’s Capitol Records, 1962. And you see Christian Wolff, John Cage, Earle Brown, Morton Feldman, and David Tudor.

CUNO:  Now, just to the left of it is the score for 4’33”, which we can describe, but famous for its being not played on the piano, although  some would say that sitting at the piano and—opening and closing the—the cover on the keys might be the playing of the piano. But it’s silence for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. That is, at least silence not from the piano; there’s silence outside, nature and various kinds of things. But it’s got a full staff of—of lines on it, as if it’s prepared to receive the notes in a composition.

PERLOFF:  So this all was—

CUNO:  [over Perloff] He could’ve had an empty sheet of paper, I suppose.

PERLOFF:  There’re different versions, which we can look at. But certainly, this one, which we should be clear, this is a reconstruction by David Tudor, of his original score for performing 4’33”. He—

CUNO:  Describe it to us. ’Cause it looks like a piece of sheet music without notation.

PERLOFF:  Well, basically, from the best I understand, distance on the page, or space on the page, represents time. So he times the ending of the first movement, which is thirty-three seconds, by subdividing into measures that break down the number of seconds. It’s curious that each one falls in exactly the same place. But he’s got point-32 here and then move 33. So that represents one second. So that may help us figure out how this subdivides. Interestingly, he’s also give it a meter. It’s in 4/4. Even though there aren’t any notes visible, there’s a 4/4 meter, and there are three movements. And it looks like the same metronome marking is used for here. And here he uses red to identify the different movements. So movement one, two, three. This movement is two minutes, eight.

CUNO:  [over Perloff] Do you think it’s part of the—the theater of the performance that you would have the sheet music on the piano and you would turn the pages at the right time? In other words, you could have on the piano, nothing but a clock that would tell you you’ve passed thirty-two seconds, you’ve passed a minute, you’ve passed a minute thirty-two seconds, whatever it might be. But this idea that at the right time, the only—the only indication of a performance, obvious indication of a piano performance, would be that he’d reach out and turn the page of music.

PERLOFF:  And he somehow had to combine that action with opening and closing the lid of the keyboard. Because if you read here—and this is another version. There were three versions, actually, that Cage made. And he, by the way, used chance operations to compose this piece, coming right out of Music of Changes. Do you want to read this, Jim? This is really interesting.

CUNO:  Sure. So this is a single sheet of paper. Unlike the scores that we’ve ss— just been talking about, for the same composition, which are sheet music, this is a single piece of typewriter paper. And it says, “Note, the title of this work is the total length in minutes and seconds of its performance, four minutes, thirty-three seconds, at Woodstock, New York, August 29th, 1952. The title was 4’33”. And the three parts were thirty-three seconds, two minutes forty seconds, and one minute twenty seconds. It was performed by David Tudor, pianist, who indicated the beginnings of parts by closing, the ends by opening the keyboard lid. However, the work may be performed by any instrumentalist, or combination of instrumentalists, and last any length of time.”

PERLOFF:  [laughs]

CUNO:  “All rights reserved, including the right of public performance for profit, by John Cage.” Now already at this time, Cage is involved with electronic music—or that is, with electronics in his music. And we’ve got some of that over here. That gets us to David Tudor, because David Tudor is increasingly interested, as well. And by time, he begins to compose himself, these environmental compositions. And this one is Rainforest IV, of which there were four Rainforests, which is Rainforest IV, right? 1973. Tell us about this

PERLOFF:  This Rainforest IV was what Tudor called an electro-acoustic environment.

CUNO:  So what are we looking at now? This is Rainforest IV. This is a score of some kind, instructing people to do something?

PERLOFF:  [over Cuno] Yeah. this is the only score. This is what he called a schematic, or a generalized diagram. And essentially, it’s quite complex. But this right here represents [Cuno: What is that?] the sound object.

CUNO:  So this is a rectangle, within which there are some electronic-looking elements drawn.

PERLOFF:  Let’s pretend it’s that. Let’s say it’s an oil drum. So that’s—

CUNO:  [over Perloff] And it’s—it looks like a big barrel, an oil drum, which is suspended from the ceiling.

PERLOFF:  We’re looking at a photograph of an installation of Rainforest IV. No people; just the objects.

CUNO:  [over Perloff] Where was this?

PERLOFF:  This was at the Espace Pierre Cardin in Paris, and pretty sure—

CUNO:  [over Perloff] So this was in Tudor’s lifetime. This wasn’t a recreation after his death.

PERLOFF:  Oh, no, not at all. ’76. The piece began in ’73. So this photograph, this installation is ’76. And these are the objects that are being described on this—

CUNO:  [over Perloff] And these are the floats at the back of a toilet.

PERLOFF:  Exactly.

CUNO:  Put together into a kind of bouquet of flowers, [Perloff: Exactly] as if made by al—by Alexander Calder, [Perloff: Exactly] for his Circus. And is this— This is a person who’s experiencing the—the music, the sound, by standing within an oil barrel, over her head. Or I guess it’s a her. It looks like a her. Over her head?

PERLOFF:  [over Cuno] Okay. This is good. So if you look at this object—

CUNO:  What is—it looks like a muzzle for a dog.

PERLOFF:  Yeah, it’s huge, though.

CUNO:  And— [Perloff: This is—] There are two people, of which Bill Viola is one.

PERLOFF:  Right.

CUNO:  And they’re biting onto the edge of it. [Perloff: Right] And opposite him is a woman biting onto another edge of it. And between them it looks like some sort of electric device, [Perloff: Right] right?

PERLOFF:  Exactly. This is called a transducer. And it’s like a loudspeaker. What it does is it captures the resonant frequencies that are occurring because sound is being sent through this object by the composers. So sound moves through the object. The transducer amplifies those sounds, so that the object vibrates. And the reasons they’re biting is because they wanna actually be biting the vibration that occurs when that object resonates. Then there are little pick-up loudspeakers, as you described in your introduction, that take that sound from here, out into the space. So the space has sounds coming from all these objects—the oil drum, the toilet bowl floats, whatever this is. But the whole idea is it’s aural, it’s visual, it’s tactile, and it’s actually physical. You can actually almost bite it.

CUNO:  We were talking about Bill Viola, but without identifying him as a master video artist, as he is today, working in Southern California. Where was he then, when this was taken? This was in Paris, I suppose? At the Pierre Cardin?

PERLOFF:  Yeah, ’76. So we have letters from Bill Viola that he wrote right after he participated in the first installation of Rainforest IV which took place in New Hampshire. So Bill Viola writes to David Tudor—

CUNO:  [over Perloff] In New Hampshire.

PERLOFF:  They were in New Hampshire.

CUNO:  [over Perloff] At Dartmouth College or in the woods of New Hampshire?

PERLOFF:  [over Cuno] They were in—I’m gonna mispronounce the name, possibly—Chocorua, [changes pronunciation] Chocorua. They were in this small, little town, where David Tudor had organized a workshop. And Bill Viola was one of the participants. And this is the very young Bill Viola. And this letter is written—let’s see, I wanna show you a couple of things, ’cause I think they’re really, really fantastic. “Just a short note to tell you—” This is a letter from Bill Viola to David Tudor. It’s not dated, but our guess would be summer, late summer, fall, 1973. “Just a short note to tell you how much I enjoyed the time spent in New Hampshire. I’m still buzzing from all the new stuff that was shot into my head. I never really got the chance to tell you how much I appreciated things like the dinner you treated us to and so forth.” And then he goes on about what he’s doing. But here, there’s an incredibly important statement.


I think I told you this before, but—” This is another letter from Bill Viola. “But it always comes up. Being involved with this piece,” meaning Rainforest, “and meeting you has redefined a lot of things for me. I don’t wanna sound corny, but it’s true. You’ve completely changed my concept of sound, for one. That’s something that’s even carried into my video work. I’ve never been able to grasp the notion of sound as a substance before. Anyway, all I can say is I can’t wait till the next Rainforest.”

CUNO:  Now tell us about after we—the Getty received the archive, you then realizing how rich and interesting it was, you plotted out to have this symposium. And this symposium included a recreation of Rainforest IV, right? And that was in Los Angeles? Or was that out in Valencia at CalArts.

PERCHUK:  The conference was here, and the recreation was out in Valencia.

CUNO:  So in Rainforest IV, or for that matter, I, II, or III, how did you know what instruments to play, what found objects that could resonate as musical instruments, to play for how long a period of time? What was the instruction that you received?

PERLOFF:  And essentially, the answer is there are two documents. There’s a typescript, which is both a program note and a set of very broad instructions. And there’s a schematic.

CUNO:  [over Perloff] And that’s typed—that’s a typeset set piece of paper. I mean, it’s written on a typewriter. He sits down and he writes it, “These are your instructions.” He gives it to you. And with that, then, you set up this environment. Could you read that for us?

PERLOFF:  I will. And it’s really important, as I read this, to keep in mind that this piece was workshopped. Which means you’re not by yourself in some practice room working on it; you’re interacting with others, in order to achieve the sounds that will be most resonant. So, “A collaborative environmental electronic composition—”

CUNO:  [over Perloff] That’s the definition of Rainforest? [Perloff: Mm-hm] The composition’s title, Rainforest IV, 1973. Good, collaborative.

PERLOFF:  “Collaborative environmental electronic composition, arising from the study of sound transmission through physical materials. Instruments sculpturally constructed from resonant physical materials—”

CUNO:  So that could be either found or made instruments? [Perloff: Mm-hm] It could be an oil drum or it could be something that you make out of the materials, an artistic set of materials.

PERLOFF:  [over Cuno] Yes. Some— Yes, I think that’s right. “The sound materials used to program the instruments are collected from natural scientific sources and are specific to each instrument, exciting their unique, resonant characteristics.

CUNO:  Okay, so I get it. So the first part is found or created materials that you can then make music with, sound with. The other are natural elements, instruments that you found. And I suppose those were natural scientific sources, which are indications of what? Of organic materials or aquatic material or water material?

PERLOFF:  [over Cuno] Yeah. It could be that you recorded whale sounds and you amplified them to transform their sound. But the crucial thing is there are objects and there are sound sources. And those sound sources, when they move through the object, have to make the object resonate. If it doesn’t resonate, it’s not working.

CUNO:  And the—by the poetic reference to “excited resonances,” [Perloff: Isn’t that great?] which probably is what an electrician understands resonances [Perloff chuckles] to be. But you know, those excited resonances are routed to a conventional audio system, by the use of one or more pickups attached to each instrument. [Perloff: Mm-hm] Either natural instrument or manufactured instrument. “The number of instruments and performances should be sufficient to fill any given spatial environment.” So if it’s a small room, you have a few instruments; in a large room, you have a large number of instruments. “The audience must be able to move freely through the environment.” Which would mean that they would hear different aspects of this performance, depending on where they were at that moment as they [Perloff: Exactly] moved through it, right? “The attached performance schematic details the electronic equipment necessary to the realization of Rainforest IV. This looks to me like something, if I were making a radio, I would need this to help me make this radio. Could you explain what—or describe it for us?

PERLOFF:  Yes. So this is what David Tudor called his schematic, it—or generalized diagram for Rainforest IV. Note that he signs it. And this is really important to pay attention to, just as a quick—1973. His realizations that we’ve talked a lot about today, he never signed those. This he signs, ’cause this is his composition. There is a signal source at the very beginning of this diagram that indicates sound materials, source materials. They’re a source, because they’re what is going to be used to generate sound that comes out of the object. So the source material, it’s mixed, it’s distributed. Maybe there’s some other sources here.

CUNO:  So that’s where it connects to other— This is a diagram for a particular instrument, as it were. Maybe this then, through these other sources, this is the means by which you connect to the other ones, as well. And they get mixed together at this point.

PERLOFF:  Right.

CUNO:  Right? And then go to an EQ. Is that equalizer?

PERLOFF:  Equalizer, yes, an equalizer. Most sensitive control point—

CUNO:  Is fifteen watts worth of something or other.

PERLOFF:  Yeah. Then we have, right in the middle of the schematic, we have in—in hyphens, a rectangle, which represents the object, the resonant object that is being transduced. [Cuno: Uh-huh] Which means it is being set in—or sent into a vibration to produce resonant frequencies. There are pickups on the object. That’s important, because those will take the sound out into the space. Then he talks about a preamp. He talks about band-pass. I could look some of this up. Other pickups, again, to take the sound from that object, within the object, out into the space. And you mix and distribute the sound, and it goes out into the space.

CUNO:  Uh-huh. And that’s—it looks like it’s drawn to be a speaker. I’m not sure that’s what it is. But that would be what sends sound out into the—into the space.

PERLOFF:  Exactly.

CUNO:  From just this one instrument of—which could—there could be thirty-five or fifty, there could be a hundred instruments, depending on the size of the room, huh?

PERLOFF:  And I think one thing that’s just really important to emphasize is it sounds very free, very open. You find an object. Some objects resonate; many don’t. And the whole art of the piece is choosing the right objects, the right source sounds, and then creating an environment where people can actually touch it, feel it, hear it, bite it. Kids go nuts.

CUNO:  And the duration of Rainforest  is of any duration.

PERLOFF:  Any length. [Cuno: It doesn’t matter] Any length. Ours went for, what, three days or four days? Not 24/7, but we had it running and available for I think three days.

PERCHUK:  But the—the day I was there was—most of the day, it was, you know, an hours-long performance.

PERLOFF:  [over Perchuk] Yeah, hours. Hours and hours, yeah. Yeah. It’s an environment.

CUNO:  Well, we’ve come a long way from Black Mountain College in the 1940s, summer of 1948, where they probably didn’t have enough electricity to even light their rooms at night. [Perloff laughs] But this has been a fantastic opportunity to look at all this material related to the David Tudor archive, everything from personal letters to musical compositions and compositions by others, transcribed by him for himself and his performances.

And everything from solo piano to environmental sounds. So thank you both very much for the time you’ve given us this afternoon, in this podcast. But why don’t we take it out, then, with Rainforest IV?


PERCHUK:  Thanks, Jim.

PERLOFF:  Okay. Thank you very much.

[Music: Rainforest IV]

CUNO:  Our theme music comes from “The Dharma at Big Sur,” composed by John Adams for the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in 2003. It is licensed with permission from Hendon Music. You also heard Morton Feldman’s “Intersection 3,” courtesy of Edition RZ, and a 1977 performance of David Tudor’s “Rainforest IV,” realized by Composers Inside Electronics and courtesy of Performing Artservices.

Look for new episodes of Art and Ideas every other Wednesday. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, and SoundCloud. Visit for images of the programs and scores we talked about in this episode. Thanks for listening.

JIM CUNO:  Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.

NANCY PERLOFF:  The whole art of the piece is choosing the right objects, the right source sounds...

Music Credits

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This post is part of Art + Ideas, a podcast in which Getty president Jim Cuno talks with artists, writers, curators, and scholars about their work.
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