100 Not-Songs for JOHN CAGE

A multimedia collaboration by composer Fredrick Gifford, soprano Tony Arnold, and video artist Ross Karre.



About Not-Songs

100 Not-Songs for JOHN CAGE is a cycle of works that takes as its starting point, in every conceivable way, things to do with John Cage. A not-song is not a negative thing, it is an open, inclusive thing.

The eight letters of Cage’s name serve as the basic unit of organization of this work of variable length and means, which can last from about 4 to 45 minutes. Each of the 12.5 cycles of eight not-songs forms a family, sharing an overall dramatic character and source texts. The performer constructs a pathway through the 100 Not-Songs by weaving individual songs from the different cycles into a new continuity, always using the name order, JOHNCAGE, as a guide.


Composing Not-Songs.

In 2012, composer Fredrick Gifford began making a new work for the centenary of John Cage that would explore the fruitful performance space between music and theater – an interdisciplinary work that would complement Cage’s Songbooks in terms of variety of content and incorporation of elements beyond those traditionally found in “songs.”

Fredrick Gifford

Fredrick Gifford

Tony Arnold sings Not-Songs at Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago, 2012

Tony Arnold sings Not-Songs at Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago, 2012

Performing Not-Songs

The project required a versatile performer who could bring the works to the stage. Tony Arnold is just that person: an avid and accomplished virtuoso specializing in new music (in fact, she had worked with Cage on a version of his Songbooks in 1991). Ms. Arnold has already premiered about a dozen of the Not-Songs as solo works.


Not-Songs and Video 

The inclusive nature of not-songs does not limit them to only solo live performances, however. A video component – one that actively engages the score rather than simply documenting it – is essential to fully realize the original idea of Not-Songs. Ross Karre, a temporal artist who specializes in the design and capture of video in new musical events, completes the team of collaborators needed to bring this project to its fruition.

Due to their very nature, Not-Songs are different every time they take to the stage, so multiple versions of each will be captured on video to document how things can change.  The video material enriches Not-Songs in two ways: it provides additional images for use in live performances and creates a repository of possible versions of each not-song. The recording work will take place in the Spring of 2014.

Ross Karre

Ross Karre


Dissemination of the Work

Once the video component is complete, multimedia performances will take place in the fall of 2014 in Chicago and New York.

By year’s end, an interactive website will be developed and launched as the Not-Songs’ permanent home.  Here users may view and listen to all the Not-Songs separately, in multiple versions, as cycles, or create their own ordering of parts of the work - in even more ways than its makers ever intended.

We believe that making something new and giving it to everybody is a birthday gesture worthy of the Not-Songs’ dedicatee.