In a train station in Bologna, a group of urban harmonica guerriglieri, enter the main hall of the station, they start to breathe; their breathing activates 20 harmonicas which cause immediate panic in the station… Students running for trains, carrying stale pannini di salami are caught in their tracks, like animals in the lights of an oncoming vehicle…. they freeze, listening to this otherwordly sound; investment bankers and professori, elegant bourgeoise women and drowsy shuffling workers looking for the next train to somewhere, stop on dimes, like biblical pillars of salt – the sound has confounded all the acoustic compost which fills the grand hall of the station… People begin to think that the harmonica sound is an invitation to board a train to some unspecified intergalactic location. Aliens have landed, yes surely they have landed and are entering our defenseless apertures to our brains. They have come to steal our recipe for Ragu al Bolognese as if it were the holy Grail. Only the hearing impaired persons continue as before, looking queerly at all the other confounded immobile people, but they continue on their railway destinies anyway, shaking their heads.
John Cage was not a science fiction writer, but in his small way caused aliens to feel very much at home on this planet. He was the son of an inventor from Los Angeles, who in time changed the course of music in our lives. He was convinced – as early as 1950- that all the noise (know known as ambient sound) in the main hall of the Bologna train station was in fact, music! His famous train concert of 1978 was only one of innumerable theatrical music events which he composed, and yet, in the fearful but still progressive times of the late 70’s in Italy, a whole city, a whole province and region could organize a marvelously brilliant and absurd concert on a “pendolare” - commuter train line for and by everyone! Where else has such an avantguard-populist event taken place? nowhere.. Once in a while cities in the USA and Europe promote urban art events, but these are rare… the Bologna – Poretta Terme train concert is then as now, THE concert for the end of time, the end of human migration, the end of work, the end of suffering and the beginning of a new era of collective understanding and spontaneously correct (harmonius) social action. The Avantgarde of the Dadaists of Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire can now come to the Bologna Train station and take a trip to the borderland, where chaos becomes reason where raisins become cherubs, and roses propagate cacao.
In such times as these how can one be so optimistic? you ask. Well, just TAKE THE CAGE TRAIN and find out… railroads have long resolved the political distinction between left and right, they either run or do not run… and their importance to the people who use them every day as vehicles for dreaming is not any more likely to cease in the near future, than is a caravan of camels likely to depart from Bologna Centrale.
bands at Riola, music and choreography by Curran, video Susan Levenstein
This concert is not a concert and “music is not music” and this simple train ride, whose destination is a plate of risotto ai funghi porcini, is not a train ride, but a dream of contemporary aliens who wish to commemorate the mythic Cage event of 30 years ago. What will happen outside the children chanting “acqua birra pannini” outside the rusting pianos on the train tracks, outside the amazing bands and choruses in the communities along the way, and the great ambulant musicians performing now as sonic train engineers, capi treno, and ticket collectors on board. One might think that Trenitalia (once known as the Ferrovia dello Stato) has lost its mind. With the currently stalled negotiations to save the state airline Alitalia, one could advise those negotiators to take a good look at how trains of the future can be operated, not by profit, but by unmediated sound, unmediated poltical action, and unmediated joy.
ac april 15 2008 rome italy
For "Take the Cage Train," on the 30th anniversary of John Cage's train happening, sponsored by Angelica in and around Bologna on May 31-June 1, 2008.
all photos Susan Levenstein