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Presenting the Mushroom Book Project

Paul, · Categories: General

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 regionís 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

One Response to “Presenting the Mushroom Book Project”

  1. Mark Hollander says:

    I am the son of Irwin Hollander, the lithographer who published The Mushroom Book. If there is any interest in purchasing a Mushroom Book, the Hollanders Workshop has at least one more copy available!

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