Archive for August 27th, 2009

Jeff Beam presents John Cage's Mushroom Book

Jeff Beam, Jeffrey Pomerantz and I are there in the picture showing one of the rare copies of John Cage’s Mushroom Book which will serve as a jumping off point for our presentation/project/happening/theatre piece at the CHAT or Collaboration: Humanities, Arts and Technology Festival early next year.

CHAT, which will take place on the UNC campus February 16-20, 2010, will showcase the possibilities for innovative, collaborative arts and humanities work enabled by technology by drawing together the region’s diverse digital resources in a series of performances, colloquies, demonstrations and training sessions.

We say:

John Cage’s Mushroom Book captures the experience of mushroom hunting through a collaboration between a noted mycologist (Alexander H. Smith), an extraordinary illustrator (Lois Long), and Renaissance man/visionary John Cage. Using scientific illustration and description, poetry, typography, and text the book is essentially an early multimedia event. We will re-capture the experience of their hunt and collaboration through a reinterpretation of the Mushroom Book: an interactive, three-dimensional, technologically-enabled multimedia experience.

This Happening will fulfill the as-yet unfulfilled promise to Dr. John Couch’s widow, by the UNC-CH John N. Couch Biology-Botany Library to make use of the Mushroom Book in the educational mission of the University. The volume was a gift from Mrs. Couch in memory of her husband’s and John Cage’s friendship. Dr. Couch was a world-renown mycologist for whom the Biology-Botany library at UNC was named. Couch, Cage, and others made a number of mushroom forays together. [revised/expanded JB 7/14/2009]

The book is discussed here in Cage’s biography, Roaring Silence (Amazon preview) page 235-236. also Cage on technology on page 237. (at UNC Music Library ML410.C24 R5 1992 ) In Conversations with Cage, John Cage says 10 lithographs were by Lois Long (the scientifically correct mushroom images) and 10 by Cage, himself ( “My texts … handwritten in five different litho crayon intensities (… superimpositions making much unreadable) … enabling the reader … to go hunting in my handwritten page.” (letter to Smith from Cage)

Read more and help us think about how to do all of this on this Google Doc at

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