note: 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
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
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 in it.
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 and performed.
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 9, 1989
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 out.
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
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 thing.
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 any performer.
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
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