From Silence to Noise: Rauschenberg’s Influence on Music

The concert Wednesday opened with perhaps the most notorious composition of the later 20th century, John Cage’s “4’33”.” This entirely silent piece, which was here “not” played by the violinist Todd Reynolds, is the musical equivalent of Rauschenberg’s White Paintings and was in fact influenced by them. There was an attempt at reconstructing a piece for amplified fluorescent light strips that David Tudor conceived, and a performance, with the talented young members of the New School’s Ensemble 4’33”, of Cage’s “Atlas Eclipticalis,” which in 1961 formed the score to a Merce Cunningham dance with sets by Rauschenberg.


Robert Rauschenberg’s Combines of the 1950s included found objects, even a stuffed goat.

All Rights Reserved, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, N.Y.; Philip Greenberg for The New York Times

FARAGO I definitely heard echoes in some of the music of Rauschenberg’s embrace of diverse materials and media, and his desire to place them on a level plane rather than in a top-to-bottom or front-to-back hierarchy. In “Atlas Eclipticalis,” for example, more than a dozen musicians were positioned around MoMA’s auditorium, among the audience or in the aisles. (I was in the same row as the clarinetist, which was probably a better spot than next to the drums.) Although they were playing a single work together, the sounds you heard — the wheeze of a piccolo, a muffled trumpet, the plucking of a samisen — felt independent. That’s a very Rauschenbergian organization, and you see it, too, in Cunningham’s choreography: Dancers to the sides of the stage are no less important than dancers at the center.

I suppose the newer works, which made use of found footage, were slightly analogous to Rauschenberg’s Combines of the 1950s, those paintings and…

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