Idea Blog

A Thought from John Cage

Posted on: March 19th, 2012 | 0 Comments

All around the world, centennial celebrations are taking place to honor renegade composer John Cage. At Vanderbilt, students will be able to take part in Happenings, dance classes, a panel discussion on music and modern dance, attend a Cage symposium, attend a musicircus (“You won’t hear a thing. You’ll hear everything!”) Go to the Curb Creative Campus site and look up VORTEX for a complete listing of events!

Here is one of my favorite thoughts from John Cage: “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”

CELEBRATE JOHN CAGE! Attend the Cage concert on April 1, Blair School of Music. Want more information? Call: 615-322-7651



Quote of the Day

Posted on: March 19th, 2012 | 0 Comments

Celebrating JOHN CAGE on his 100th birthday! Here’s a Cage quote for the day: “Percussion music is revolution!”

Happenings Begin This Week!

Posted on: March 19th, 2012 | 0 Comments

With the big centennial birthday bash coming up for John Cage on April 1, the Vanderbilt campus will see more and more of Blair Percussion VORTEX and their musical friends. Happenings—think of them as cousins to flashmobs—will be occurring in many places including the Baker building, the Commons, Sarratt Student Center, and at a variety of unknown locations. Dancers, multiple turntables, Chinese drummers, hand drummers—a real assortment of performers—will be creating sound and image collages. We hope students will take an interest in this and get involved. Celebrate John Cage! Celebrate the all-sounds orchestra

VORTEX Program

Posted on: January 25th, 2012 | 0 Comments


A historic photomontage assembled by cinematographer David Perry, featuring John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and the artists with whom they worked, precedes the program. Thanks to the Merce Cunningham Trust, the John Cage Trust, the Other Minds Archive, and RadiOM for their generosity in making this program possible.

Speech Radio (1955)

Audio clip: KPFA Radio, Berkeley, California, Charles Amirkhanian, August 12, 1992

Suite for Toy Piano (1948 Black Mountain College)

Fads & Fancies in the Academy (1940) (A Gentle Satire on Progressive Education)

  • 1. Axioms
    • 1a. The pupil is eager to learn
    • 1b. The pupil is constitutionally lazy
    • 1c. We deal with the total child
  • 2. A Short Historical Sketch
    • 2a. Reactionaries
    • 2b. Revolutionaries—Pitched Battle
  • 3. A Short Historical Sketch
    • 3a. Pessimist
    • 3b. Optimist


CHOREOGRAPHY: Marsha Barsky & Erin Law in collaboration with dancers
“Lost” work, created by John Cage and choreographer Marian Van Tuyl, Mills College, Oakland,
California. Restaged by Barsky and Law, informed by Van Tuyl’s personal notes, historic 16mm film
footage, and conversations with archivist Joanna G. Harris, PhD. Fads and Fancies is dedicated to
Marian Van Tuyl, her daughter Gail Campbell, Executor of the Van Tuyl Estate, and Ms Harris, who is
present for tonight’s performance.

Film clip: Ecoute (Listen) John Cage interviewed, 1992; Producer: Jacques Bidou; Director: Miroslav
Sebestik. Courtesy Jacques Bidou and Centre Georges Pompidou, JBA Productions, Paris.


Inlets (1977)

Film clip: I’ve Got a Secret CBS Television, February 24, 1960, John Cage, contestant and performer. Courtesy Laura Kuhn
and The John Cage Trust.

Water Walk (1959) for solo television performer




Film Clip: Mondays with Merce™ Excerpts from Episode 015 The Prepared Mind: John Cage and David Tudor. Commentary from Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Gordon Mmma, and Christian Wolff. Courtesy of Kevin Carr and the Merce Cunningham Trust.



And former dancers of the


CHOREOGRAPHY: Merce Cunningham STAGED BY: Jennifer Goggans Amores

The event idea was originally prompted by our being presented with an unusual performing area in
Vienna, 1964: an open room with the audience on three sides (space); a situation where an intermission
would have been awkward and uncomfortable (time); and a “stage” not equipped nor allowing for
conventional arrangements of musicians, lighting, exits and entrances, curtains, etc. In order to be
flexible in our approach to these, the décor has been the building itself with whatever appurtenances it
might contain. If we want to be flexible, then we must not preclude the theatre as it has been known and
is still commonly used—a playing space in front of spectators. –Merce Cunningham

A MinEvent is an uninterrupted sequence of excerpts from the work of Merce Cunningham. Each
MinEvent is unique. This MinEvent was constructed and staged by Jennifer Goggans expressly for this
performance with VORTEX. This performance is made possible with the permission and support of the
Merce Cunningham Trust.

Amores (1943)

Child of Tree (1975) layered with

The Wonderful Widow of 18 Springs (1942) & Nowth Upon Nacht (1984)

Credo In Us (1942) Originally subtitled for a satirical dance drama as A Suburban Idyll

CollaborATE- Fall Semester 2011

Posted on: December 11th, 2011 | 0 Comments

The idea for the CollaborATE project began with a simple question: Why eat alone?  Initially, the concept of CollaborATE was to simply build a “lunch match” website for the Vanderbilt community.  Such services, which randomly pair students together for lunch, already exist at a few universities. CollaborATE, however, soon evolved into a Creative Campus project with a broader purpose.  The motto “new food, new people, new ideas” sums up the focus of CollaborATE – the project seeks to bring together graduate students and professors for serendipitous lunchtime conversations at local restaurants.  The graduate student community at Vanderbilt can be somewhat insular.  Since there is no graduate student housing, it is easy to spend your grad school years sequestered in a lab or office, with a social circle that is limited to your department.

While getting the website developed has been a challenge, what follows is a summary of how it should work when it’s up and running.  The CollaborATE matching process begins when users (who must have a e-mail address) create a profile on the project’s website.  The user indicates a specific date and time (for example, Wednesday at 11:00 am to noon) when he or she is available for lunch.  The site matches users who have specified the same time slot, sending an e-mail to each group confirming the date and time of the lunch and providing the name of a restaurant.  The confirmation e-mail also includes an ice-breaker question to help get the conversation rolling.  While conversation starters may range from serious (for instance, “what has been your greatest professional challenge?)  to absurd (“Which superpower would you most like to have?”), they always promise to begin a scintillating conversation that goes beyond the exchange of demographics (i.e. “where are you from, what field are you in, what is your research, what point are you at in your degree program”)  which often dominate initial interactions.  In addition to ice-breakers, group members will be presented with a more serious topic for conversation, usually related to current events (either inside or outside the Vanderbubble). After receiving their confirmation e-mail,  groups of 3 to 5 users will convene at the designated location for their CollaborATE luncheon (placards posted at local restaurants can clearly designate the meeting spot for program participants).  An associated CollaborATE check-in app for iPhone could quickly alert CollaborATE participants when other diners in their group arrive.  Once the group has assembled, the food (and conversation) can commence!

In lieu of a website, we’ve been using Facebook to coordinate our luncheons for the fall semester.  Our inaugural lunch was held at SATCO, where we discussed the future of manned spaceflight (a timely subject, as the Space Shuttle fleet was retired in July and a commercial company has yet to develop a flight-proven replacement).  While our first group consisted largely of the CollaborATE founders, we did manage to round up a couple other people (and make some new friends!)  The second lunch was in October at McDougal’s, where we responded to the question “should college athletes be paid” (a topic that was inspired by a recent Frontline documentary on the same subject).  Most recently, we met at The Dog to discuss Occupy Wall Street, related 1st amendment issues, and possible parallels between OWS and the “Arab Spring” liberation movements.  There were some silly questions sprinkled between the “heavier” subjects to keep things fun!

We’re planning on a late-January website launch.  While so far the food and conversations have been great, what’s truly lacking is the “random” aspect of the project (which will be resolved with a website).  By relying on Facebook, our events tend to be populated by people who already know each other in some capacity.  However, we have met several new people through CollaborATE (both graduate students and undergrads!) – their unique perspectives made our lunchtime conversations much more interesting!

What can you do to help CollaborATE until the website is up and running?  ”Like” us on Facebook (just type “CollaborATE” in the search box to find our page) so you can stay up to date on our luncheons and launch!


Communicating Gender, Creative Reflections

Posted on: November 22nd, 2011 | 0 Comments

Over the several semesters I have taught Communicating Gender (CMST 235) at Vanderbilt University, by the far the most effective and affective experience is the Gender Performance. On this day, the students and I alter our presentations of gender in ways big or small. In-class discussion, which never fails to be animated and emotive, gives shape to a short paper in which students reflect on the experience. The purpose of this assignment is to engage materially and experientially Judith Butler’s argument that gender is not something you have but something you do, not an identity but a performance.

While I always cherished this moment in the class, I also lamented its singularity. This assignment was the only one of its kind I had on the syllabus. When I learned about the Curb Creative Campus Innovation Grant, I knew I had a chance to expand this opportunity, taking students off campus to see gender being performed in a wide variety of sites. The events I scheduled for students included a Nashville Rollergirls roller derby bout, a midnight screening of _Rocky Horror Picture Show_, and a bridal fair. I was also exceptionally lucky that the Vanderbilt campus and Nashville community boasted a multitude of other events that dovetailed perfectly with the ones I had chosen, including a lecture by queer theorist Judith “Jack” Halberstam, the anti-sexual violence “Slut Walk” at Centennial Park, Vanderbilt’s annual Lambda drag show, and a screening of a documentary about trans-identity. Students are allowed to choose among these various events (and others that they discover on their own) as inspirations for a creative project they will submit at the end of the semester. So far, I have been thrilled with the level of discourse and engagement students have demonstrated.

The first, and perhaps least expected, outcome of these gender “excursions” has been the formation of relationships among my students. I teach this course in a classroom with stadium seating and unmovable chairs. While this arrangement works well for lectures, it does not foster open, easy discussion. This obstacle is something I have to address in every class that I teach in this room. After the first gender excursion, however, I began to notice students turning more in their seats to talk to one another, calling each other by name, and referencing their shared experiences outside of our class meeting time. It seems that the relatively simple gesture of transplanting students to new (and potentially “strange”) environments inspired them to come together. The comfort level they have developed has yielded not only increased collegiality and presumably new friendships but has also made the students more willing (or, perhaps comfortable) to engage each other critically, but respectfully.

I have never seen Vanderbilt students so willing to challenge one another, to confront course readings, and to speak with such agency. As good as things have been so far, I cannot wait to see what their creative projects will bring! ************************************************************************ Claire Sisco King, PhD Assistant Professor Department of Communication Studies Film Studies Program Vanderbilt University


Starparty Mashup

Posted on: November 18th, 2011 | 0 Comments


The first Dyer Observatory Science and Art Starparty Mashup!  We were there with several telescopes from 8 till midnight and students were able to see Jupiter, Uranus, star clusters and the Moon. We also did some live video feed of the Orion Nebula. There was a constant stream of students and all seemed to really enjoy it.

The next Science and Art Starparty Mashup will be on 12-2 near the Student Life Center for Stressfest.



Posted on: October 12th, 2011 | 0 Comments



Michael Holland, Artistic Director

“ ‘Downtown’ ain’t just for New Yorkers anymore.” –Nashville Scene

VORTEX celebrates
JOHN CAGE with former dancers of the

John Cage and Merce Cunningham, 1968.
Photographer: Jack Mitchell. Photo courtesy of the John Cage Trust.


Witness history. Make history. Join VORTEX and Artistic Director Michael Holland in the centennial birthday celebration of John Cage and his 50-year collaboration with Merce Cunningham. Rare archival photographs, audio clips, and film footage let Cage and Cunningham speak to you as VORTEX performs with former members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, just off their international farewell Legacy Tour.

PLUS: COMPANY ROSE, Nashville, Tennessee – Marsha Barsky & Erin Law, choreographers.

Nashville’s Company Rose joins the program in a groundbreaking restaging of the ‘lost’ Cage work, Fads and Fancies in the Academy, Created by Cage with 1940s modern dance pioneer, Marian Van Tuyl, it was originally subtitled A Gentle Satire on Progressive Education. For the first time since the original WWII performances, Company Rose and VORTEX reunite Cage’s uncharacteristically rhapsodic program music with choreography created by Marsha Barsky and Erin Law, informed by film footage of Van Tuyl’s original choreography and personal notes.


Musicologist David W. Patterson, performance artist Amelia Winger-Bearskin, composer Stan Link, film scholar Jonathan Rattner, and Joanna Harris, archivist of the Marian Van Tuyl estate, showcase Cage’s work in music, art, dance, and film.


(You won’t hear a thing. You’ll hear everything!)



VORTEX Program



11:30 – 12:30


(LIVE!) ELEVATOR MUSIC designed to surprise and engage; performed on found objects and conventional instruments.


11:30-1:00 PM


Guerilla performances featuring multiple record players, percussion, modern dance, Chinese drummers & dancers, spoken word and more!


11:30-1:00 PM


Guerilla performances featuring multiple record players, percussion, modern dance, Chinese drummers & dancers, spoken word and more!


CROSSWALK DANCES – Spontaneous dance and music coming to a busy street corner near you!




John Cage and Merce Cunningham: A conversation on Form, Composition, and Creativity
A dialogue on the intersection of music and dance, featuring Jennifer Goggans former dancer with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Dr. Michael Slayton, chair of the Blair School of Music Composition Department, Joy Calico, Associate Professor of Musicology at Blair, and Michael Holland, Artistic Director of VORTEX.



Former Merce Cunningham dancer, Jennifer Goggans, leads this class focused on the dance technique developed by Merce Cunningham.





Former Merce Cunningham dancer, Jennifer Goggans, leads this class on the intersection of Cunningham Technique with creativity and chance operations.


Support for this program provided by a Creative Campus Innovation Grant. Additional support provided by: Mark Wait, Dean, Blair School of Music; Frank Wcislo, Dean of The Ingram Commons; Sandra Stahl, Office of the Dean of Students; and by JoEl Logiudice, Office of Creative Engagement. Blair thanks the Hutton Hotel for generously providing guest artist accommodations.

About Blair Percussion VORTEX

Blair Percussion VORTEX performs historically relevant and strikingly contemporary repertoire.  It embraces the free spirit of invention that animated and informed the early writers for percussion who broke rules, defied ingrained traditions, and crossed disciplines, giving voice to an art that could speak to the modern age.  Following John Cage’s dictum “Percussion music is revolution,”VORTEX enthusiastically courts composers, actors, engineers, choreographers, filmmakers, lighting designers—artists of all stripes—to form enduring partnerships that mirror real-world performance opportunities.

VORTEX is as much about a way of approaching performance as it is the repertoire performed.  Concerts are highly curated, taking into account the sum of the visual, dramatic, and musical parts.  Recent hybrid collaborations include the theatrical adaptation of The Tell-tale Heart for percussion and actor, live accompaniment of silent film, and several commissioned percussion works.  The roster of artistic collaborators includes engineer/musician John Harrison, electric violinists Tracy Silverman and Daniel Bernard Roumain, actor Jim Lovensheimer, electronica/remix artist Brad Bowden, composer Jeffery Briggs, world-renowned CRASH founder and composer Mary Ellen Childs, and in 2012, former dancers of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

VORTEX is bold, innovative, and cutting edge, regularly crossing the line between conventional chamber music and unexpected theater.  Students in this group bring strong percussion performance skills, an eagerness to take on daring, new musical challenges, and an interest in being prepared as 21st century musicians.  In 2010, VORTEX was named “Best Next-Wave Student Music Ensemble” by Nashville Scene arts critic Russell Johnston.

A high quality video recording of this program is available for viewing within the Wilson Music Library, Blair School of Music. Be sure to ask for the archival copy.