Decibel undertakes the first complete performance of Cage’s colossal Variationsfor the composer’s centenary.

On the back of a recent, successful tour to Europe, Perth-based new music ensemble Decibel this week stages a never-before-attempted complete performance of John Cage’s colossal Variationsto celebrate the centenary of the maverick composer’s birth.

One can only imagine the dignified self-righteousness with which a young John Cage might have looked into the eye of his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg, and defiantly uttered the words, “Then I shall dedicate my life to hitting my head against a brick wall.” The rebellious upstart had been told by his older colleague that, as someone with no feel whatsoever for harmony, Cage’s career as a composer would be doomed, and pursuing one would repeatedly bring him up against unsurmountable obstacles.

It was perhaps this crucial moment that galvanised Cage and set him on his path as a musical revolutionary. Far from being deterred, as any lesser mortal may have been, he went ahead to forge a new future for classical music by subverting old, comfortable truths on the nature of the artform and calling into question the role of the composer.

One hundred years after...

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