John Cage’s 49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs Goes Viral

September 05, 2012

In 1977, New York composer John Cage received a commission from Rolling Stone to create a work of art inspired by his hometown, to be published in an issue celebrating the magazine's relocating to New York from San Francisco. Cage presented the publication with a graphic score titled 49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs: a Hagstrom map of the city covered in 49 painted triangles, or "waltzes," each linking three discrete locations in the city, and presumably a nod to the musical form's 3/3 time signature. Later, he republished the score as a complete list of all 147 street addresses, specifying only that 49 Waltzes was a piece for "performer(s) or listener(s) or record maker(s)." After his death, in 1992, the work would go on to be immortalized by veteran collaborator Don Gillespsie, who set up a rotating video camera at each of the designated locations, and folded the results into a film.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the storied composer's birth, and to celebrate, Brooklyn performing arts non-profit Avant Media has unveiled, an interactive, user-driven recreation of Cage's ode to the city. The website invites visitors to upload photos, SoundCloud streams, videos, and written commentary to all 147 locations, group-composing each waltz in real time as a succession of memories and impressions. As you click from waltz to waltz, a looming quotation from the artists's 1937 manifesto, The Future of Music: Credo surfaces, summing up what this piece can tell us about living in New York: "Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating."

Below, listen to some audio that a user named Leonard Siegfried captured in Manhattan, on 186th Street between Amsterdam and Audobon.

And further downtown, a bit of video captured by Randy Gibson on Warren Street between Broadway and Church.

Posted: September 05, 2012
John Cage’s 49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs Goes Viral