Not only could Cage prepare a piano, he could also whip up a mean fungal ragout.

W hile penning some of the 20th century’s most notable avant-garde works, American composer John Cage harboured a deep-seated love of mushrooms. His interest began in the early 1950s when living in an artists’ commune in rural New York State. Taking long walks in the surrounding forests, he was amazed at the sudden appearance of mushroom growths dotting the forest floor. Documenting the characteristics of each variety, his keen observations paved the way for a long-held obsession for collecting and studying field fungi.

Upon his return to New York City, Cage wasted little time in founding the New York Mycological Society and began holding regular mushroom hunts and identification days around the city’s parks and nature reserves. Quickly making a name for himself as an avid expert and collector, it wasn’t long before news of his mushroom obsession reached Europe. In 1959, while visiting composer Luciano Berio in Milan, Cage was selected to take part in the well-known Italian game show Lascia o Raddoppia(Double or...

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