Ian Baxter
Sound Artist






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Song derived from a song

I discovered "Song Derived form the Journal of Henry David Thoreau" on the UBU archive over a decade ago and later in M: Writings '67 - 72 (where it is simply listed as Song)

It's one of my favourite John Cage pieces, perhaps because the chance I-Ching process are allied with his quiet, meditative reading voice as opposed to traditional instruments. To my mind chance processes are more suited to generating random combinations - or rhythms - than random notes and this is an idea I have pursued in my research.

I often listened to this piece and enjoyed the quiet meditative atmosphere it generates. But I often thought it was over too soon. Given the corpus of Thoreau's journal runs to 47 volumes the piece could be a lot larger - although the manual nature of Cage's method (which isn't detailed, but I assume the results of the I-Ching are used to pick a page, then a paragraph or sentence) made this cumbersome. Perhaps a computer could be programmed to go through the entire journal, producing a massive, almost unending poem. But who would read out the words till the end of time? Perhaps I will make this piece for computer generated voice one day.

However, what I really liked about the UBU.web recording was the sound of Cage's voice (and vinyl ticks from the original source), so I designed this webpage. I split the audio of the original recording at Cage's pauses. After the original introduction, an unending, random combination of these lines is read out. Until you close the website. Now I (or you) can listen for as long as I like.

Sheffield, August 2017