John Cage – Art is Either a Complaint or Do Something Else

Art is Either a Complaint or Do Something Else cassette cover
Art is Either a Complaint or Do Something Else cassette side A

Recorded at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London, in 1989, during a collective exhibition of works by John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Jasper Johns titled Dancers on a Plane, this reading of Art is Either a Complaint or Do Something Else took place 2 years after the “official” version recorded by Hessischer Rundfunk radio in Germany on November 1st, 1987 – now issued on a Mode 2xCD set. The text is based on mesostics derived from Jasper Johns statements found by Cage in Mark Rosenthal’s book Jasper Johns: Work Since 1974, published by Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1988. The book was published during Johns’ exhibition at the Vennice 1988 Biennale. Note strange discrepancy in the date: Cage’s mesostics were apparently written 1 year before the book they’re supposed to be based on.

Naturally, these quotes were submitted to chance operation before being layed out on the page in the form of mesostics. In this exquisite cassette, Cage’s melodious and enveloping reading forms a verbal labyrinth in which the listener is guided by Cage’s frail and slightly hypnotic voice – at this time of his life, Cage suffered from arthritis, sciatica and arteriosclerosis, according to Wikipedia.

[Thanks to Goran for this one]

01 Art is Either a Complaint… (25:10)
02 Art is Either a Complaint… [continued] (23:03)

Total time 48:13
Cassette released by Audio Arts, London, UK, 1990


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13 Responses to “John Cage – Art is Either a Complaint or Do Something Else”

  1. 1 John Hails (@harmonyharmony) March 4, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Thanks continuo! Took a little time to find a link that worked…

  2. 2 continuo March 4, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Time not wasted, I hope.

  3. 3 John Hails (@harmonyharmony) March 5, 2012 at 11:33 am

    not wasted at all!
    his voice in this recording is amazing – on the verge of a whisper
    when you start listening, you hear his delivery almost as a monotone, but as you listen more you hear the subtlety of his delivery

  4. 4 continuo March 5, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    There’s something mesmerizing in the tone of this voice, I agree.

  5. 5 alfred venison March 7, 2012 at 10:41 am

    dear friend
    thanks for this, i’m sure i would never have heard of it otherwise. i’ve known cage as writer & composer all my life, but i’m really warming to him lately, and looking forward to hearing him reading stuff i may have once read in the public library while skipping school. expecting the unexpected in grateful anticipation.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  6. 6 continuo March 7, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Hopefully, Cage’s Centenary in 2012 will be an opportunity for many to discover lesser known works. Unlike the Chopin Year in 2011, I mean.

  7. 7 Joaquín Mendoza Sebastián March 10, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Fantastic post my friend! I love Cage’s voice….it’s like your grandfather is guiding you through modern art

    Thanks as always!


  8. 8 continuo March 10, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    Cage can be an introduction to many things, I guess, from aleatorism to . . . mushroom cooking! Glad you enjoyed this piece, Joaquín, and thanks for your comment.

  9. 10 continuo March 18, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Hi, Joseph! Glad you enjoyed.

  10. 11 isa June 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Dear all, I’m trying to download… which link is the right one?
    I tried many of them!

  11. 13 sjr July 28, 2013 at 12:35 am

    Hi everyone, I’m trying to get hold of this recording but all links are down and have been looking unsuccessfully for it on the net. Any help would be much appreciated. I just finished a translation into Spanish of “Art is either…” Faced with the original’s formal constraints, the new version rendered expanded possibilities for perception and expression. Listening to Cage’s articulation (breathing and stressed words) would further open insights on his poetic text/vocal score. Many thanks.

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