Recently on Facebook, someone shared an article from The Guardian online titled “The wonders of the internet – listen to John Cage and Morton Feldman in conversation”. The author, Tom Service, links to this YouTube video that presents what Service describes as “among the most truly wonderful four hours, 13 minutes and 28 seconds there are in the world . . . : apparently unedited conversations between John Cage and Morton Feldman.” Like so many people who have heard these talks, Service finds them compelling, like “spending precious hours in the unmediated company of people who just happen to be two of the most probing minds in musical history.”
It’s not the first time that these four hours of conversations have surfaced. Charles Amirkhanian and Other Minds published them on the RadiOM website some years ago, and they were picked up by the Internet Archive from there. And, as the Guardian article pointed out, a transcription of these talks (with German translation) was published in 1993 by MusikTexte. (Just recently, I learned that MusikTexte will be releasing a new edition soon, complete with the entire audio on DVD)
The publication identifies these as the Radio happenings I–V that were broadcast on radio station WBAI in New York City in 1966 and 1967. RadiOM gives the proper title and credits, but by the time we get to YouTube and The Guardian, both the very 1960s title and provenance have been lost. But then, even by the time of the MusikTexte publication some of the story was lost. The publication gives no account of how the broadcasts came to be, whose idea they were, or how they came to be rediscovered and transcribed.
And not just the story is incomplete, but even some of the audio (albeit a trivial amount). The published transcription notes a missing portion of the audio early in the fifth Happening:
JC: Everyone I mentioned that thought to is also struck, because those other ways of explaining Varèse [tape is damaged at this point; sound out for 15 seconds]. Do you suppose he didn’t know what he was doing? or knew what he was doing and didn’t want anyone to know?
Neither of the shows on RadiOM and YouTube fill the gap. Both of these start the fifth Happening after the “damaged” section (“Do you suppose he didn’t know what he was doing?”). The context of this being about Varèse is lost (although it’s made clear later on).
But that tape was never damaged. I, too have copies of the Radio Happenings in my sound archive, and my version of Happening V contains the missing fifteen seconds (plus a few seconds at the start of the show that reveals that the recording began in mid-sentence):
How I came to have those fifteen seconds of lost audio is another part of the missing story of the Radio Happenings, a story I want to tell in this series of posts. First I’ll tell the story of the Radio Happenings themselves. Then I’ll describe the shows and point out some of the highlights of the conversations. Finally I’ll tell my own personal story, the story of how the master tapes were given to me, how I safeguarded them for a time, how all the subsequent publications arose from this, and where they ultimately wound up. It’s one of my favorite memories of my New York years and a story that I’ve never told in print before.
Next in this series: How the Happenings happened