When Mitch Corber goes to a poetry reading in one
or another of the downtown venues in Manhattan, he
rarely travels alone. That's because Corber -- a
recipient of a NYFA (NY Foundation for the Arts)
1987 grant in the field of emerging artforms with
a weekly poetry-arts cable show running since 1989
on Time-Warner Manhattan Cable, airing weekly at
Wednesday Midnight in Manhattan, Channel 34 -- has
usually got his video equipment tagging along with
him.This summer, 2006, Corber presented a multimedia
event to illustrate aspects of his work. The event,
a one-day only affair, was held at the Gathering of
the Tribes Gallery, impresario Steve Cannon's legendary
venue. On August 24, 2006, from 4 pm to 8:33 pm, Corber
presented "Cage Live Mix: Four Hours and 33 Minutes."The
title “Four Hours and 33 Minutes” refers
to Cage’s notorious silent piano sonata of the
late 50s, “Four Minutes and 33 Seconds.” Spread
through different areas of Tribes Gallery, it was,
said the artist, "an opportunity for chance events
and audience participation." Corber called it a "multi-screen,
multi-speaker, multi-room, ambience of Cage video,
audio, interview, poetry and various inserts, some
chance-oriented, some audience participation, and having
my own huge bag of tricks."Based on a previously distributed
60-minute documentary video JOHN CAGE: MAN AND MYTH,
Corber invited viewers to see the work presented in
a brand new way, as a live mix installation. The program
included interview sequences with Cage and the many
avantgarde artists who contributed homage interviews,
run not as in the edited documentary, but in what the
videographer describes as 'a surprising new interactive
way.'Our interview with Mitch Corber, conducted recently
to learn more about his ideas for the one day project,
Q: What is the idea behind your project
4 Hours 33 Minutes?:
A: Many have heard about John Cage, but know little
of his actual life and work. My aim was to create
an interesting and informative piece. Because Cage
is, well he's still "everywhere," as a kind of
seafaring compass for all forward thinking artists.
He isn't just "Music" or "Noise." He isn't just
macrobiotic food. He isn't just "the gay companion
of Merce Cunningham," who both shared that great
loft in Manhattan on 6th Avenue and 18th Street
on the 3rd floor.
He's the man who helped found the “happenings” with
Kaprow, and created his “Variations” series
which occupied different parts of an art gallery
with himself and David Tudor and audience participants
variously tuning radios, or plucking various instruments,
mostly on the direction of Cage, while leaving
space for random “chance operations.”
In addition to the Cage documentary, I drew from
video interviews he conducted with David Antin,
Philip Glass, Richard Kostelanetz, Jackson Mac
Low, Alison Knowles, Allen Kaprow, pianists Joshua
Pierce and Grete Sultan, Marjorie Perloff, and
microtonalist Johnny Reinhard.
And like Cage, it is my notion that the audience
can choose to participate, with musical instruments,
noisemakers, or “happening” ideas.
People who attend are free to come and go.
Q: When did you first meet John Cage?
A: I met him that time at the Bang On A Can Music
Festival in May 1989, when I was first not allowed
to video his piece "Five Stone Wind" by the authorities
there. Another videographer named, oh who gives
a shit, he was in cahoots directly with Merce Dance
Co and Merce bankrolled the dude's interesting
film which I later did see. It used much Merce
dance archives and not so much Cage but focused
on them both, and because Cage was in the final
piece which was shot on a kind of hi-def video
at the time and turned into projectable big-screen
video -- well because Cage was in his video, of
course it had more clout than if just Merce, I
mean if even his great wild archives were solely
Anyway, okay that was 89 but Bang On A Can 88
the year before I did video (note that Five Stone
Wind piece really was "boring" and with Cage, "Boring" takes
on a different meaning and concept, but let's say
it wouldn't have made good video). However back
a year later at BANG, I had no problem whatsoever
videoing the incredible theater piece which the
avantgarde troupe California Ear Unit teamed up
So I already had that in the can so to speak.
Q: And is that where you got the idea
to video him:
A: Uh....... well, encouraged by a nutty female
Cage-lover from New Haven who I still know who
was sitting up in the balcony with me, I decided,
since Cage was sitting there, that I would introduced
myself at intermission. Not being able to pull
out my camera, at that time, a very rare event
well, Cage was great and gave me his phone number,
was gracious, funny, looked me in the eye. He had
a twinkle in his own eye, he was sitting alone,
right in the front row, and then I said I'd like
to interview him. It must have been Wednesday May
Well he said okay that's great, we can do it in
ten days. But with his fading memory at 76 he said
remind him when I call him what this was about.
Q: And this fit in with your own notions
of yourself as an artist at the time?
A: Remember I was a UCLA film/television grad,
studying from 69 to 71, and later getting film/conceptual
art background in 74-75 at California Inst of the
Arts (Cal Arts). And immediately after that, taking
my education and bolting for New York, finding
my cheap apartment, making a splash in late 75
in the avantgarde performance art world -- Reciting
Poetry Under The Influence Of Onions -- which the
Village Voice wrote up in Feb 76.
Well, at the time I had three video interests
-- art world, music world, poetry world. And being
a competent and out-there and underappreciated
performer myself it was my idea that somehow I
could include documentations of myself performing
various pieces, performance art, poetry, music.
For those to be included side by side with major
name performers in a growing archives -- at the
time one of my wishes.
Q So how did you prepare for the interview?
A: Cage was said to be nuts for not having an
answering machine, not having an agent nor go-between,
for answering the phone either by himself or by
a live assistant at his loft. But that all worked
Okay, well the thing is I needed good questions.
I had interviewed Leonard Cohen the year before
-- August 88 -- which audio the New York Public
Library did purchase as is in their collection.
And I had interviewed Randy Newman before he was
a superstar back in LA in 1971 thanks to the Daily
Bruin newspaper's arranging it. And having driven
to his swank place, he helped me patiently during
the interview because in 71 I hadn't yet mastered
my interview technique, by any means, however being
a great fan and "student" of all his songs I was
prepared in that way.
Well, for the Cohen interview, which his press
people at Stranger Music in LA had set up for me
thanks to my persistence and the Downtown Magazine
article I was to write, that all worked out, and
I didn't need any help, because I knew all his
songs backwards and forwards and could sing all
of them on guitar, so he was impressed. "You really
did your homework".......he said afterward.
But in the case of Cage I really wasn't that up,
however for years I'd been videotaping the NY Microtonal
Music group founded by Johnny Reinhard who lived
in the upper East 70s and had been a fired Columbia
music teacher who went on to burst on the scene
with symposia, one-on-one teachings, microtonal
concerts he would team up to give one in spring,
one in fall and for a couple years I was his videographer.
He was strong on the idea that HEY MITCH YOU DON'T
GET THE MASTER, I GET IT BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE CONCERT
AREA, THEN WE'LL ARRANGE HOW YOU MAKE ME COPIES
later...etc etc. Okay, I can see his point, but
I was uncomfortable with that, because if I'm videotaping
anything, I've got to get all my shit together,
and the least reward would be for me to own the
Well, but Johnny did play a pivotal role here.
When I called him about the future Cage interview,
it proved totally right up his alley and I almost
didn't have to turn anywhere else besides myself
and my own research for the needed great questions.
He knew about the friction between Harry Partch
and Cage. He knew of Cage's performance with electric
cactus. He knew of a piece for cello, sand and
broken glass. He knew the 4 minutes 33 seconds
of silence and he also knew about the alternate
idea 0 minutes and 0 seconds of silence piece.
And those pieces weren't just for piano, they were
adaptable for any instrument or noisemaker, or
So by the time the interview happened, Johnny
had primed me with info and proposed questions.
And mixed with my own love of Cage and thirst for
knowledge, I had my 32 Questions.
Q: So, how did the interview go?
A: I arrived Saturday May 19, 1989 under a sunny
skylight in his giant loft with his whole room
of personally cared-for plants, his Jasper Johns
number series, and his Rauschenbergs, and Cage's
own artwork, which were like zen stuff of a water-color
Japanese brush having outlined some "stone" onto
art paper, and it had a kind of rustic look. Then
there was the Nam June Paik violin sliced in half
piece framed on his wall too.
Merce was gone that day until 6 pm, so I'd arrived
around 4 but we hit it off great.
And this time, I really got my shit together video
and tech-wise and for once did a fantastic job
videoing the fantastic interview. First Cage alone,
and sometimes with his beloved black cat Losa as
he reminisced and theorized.
And later after that was in the can I had miked
both him and me each with small tietack mikes,
so both our voices were exceptionally clear. After
that interesting part was done I got the idea with
a little more time of reframing it and so I framed
it for Cage and myself in the same frame. And well,
I found it's incredible difficult and awkward to
try to video yourself, but that's another story.
So all in all, it went fantastic. I was cuter
and younger with great wavy hair, thin then and
him being gay, yet more than anything a super avantgarde
artist thinker, and that of course transcended
everything, well we did hit it off for the questions
and he was so charming.
Jack Foley has published books
of poetry and criticism. His radio show, Cover
to Cover, is heard every Wednesday at 3:00 p.m.
on Berkeley station KPFA and is available at
the KPFA web site; his column, "Foley's Books," appears
in the online magazine, The Alsop Review.