Something I’d like to build into my filmmaking practice in time for the third year of my Moving Image degree is time for reflection before presenting the ‘finished’ film to tutors and fellow students (I imagine this practice will continue but I don’t know for sure). It’s now a week since I presented House Boat Train and I have come to realise this: follow stupid rules and you get a stupid film. I based my process on John Cage’s process, but the reflection has taught me something: avoiding or distancing is like doing nothing. I was avoiding making decisions in this final project after reading the feedback on the project before in which the acting was criticised. I suppose I felt the criticism was unfair (and it wasn’t mentioned in the final critique) and it wasn’t supported with evidence of what ‘good’ acting is. I chose to distance myself from the film in order to avoid that sort of criticism. To be fair, it was a very busy time and I was feeling the pressure to make a decision on what my dissertation would be about at the same time.
This reflection has shown me something interesting about following stupid rules. I don’t like my film. It doesn’t do much but it does show me that following stupid rules is pointless in editing, and also in other areas of life so in that respect it was a success.
Anyway, here’s the film:
This is a documentary about John Cage and his musical practice. I watched it after watching the video of a performance of Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra. During the documentary a performance of 4’33” is given: a pianist sits at a piano and reads the notes; each note is silent. John Cage composed these silent notes. The audience sits and watches the pianist read the music.
I didn’t know before there was an actual musical composition consisting of silent notes. It makes the piece very interesting. How do we know the pianist is reading the notes and not thinking about his dinner? What if he loses concentration? The piece might last longer. It’s intriguing that he opens and closes the piano lid during the performance. I wonder what that’s about. John Cage’s music seems haphazard when listening to it, but his instructions are very precise. He uses chance (the i-Ching) to devise the compositions. It seems like a concentrated, repetitious way of working.
I watched this video after reading John Cage’s Queer Silence by Jonathan D. Katz in Writings Through John Cage’s Music, Poetry, and Art edited by David W. Berstein and Christopher Hatch (2001, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press). Katz mentions the Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra a few times in his essay, highlighting the use of silence. Cage recognised “silence is coterminous with sound” (p: 51).
I wanted to experience his music and I found it pleasing, disturbing, and thought-provoking.