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John Cage «Europeras 1 & 2»
John Cage, «Europeras 1 & 2», 1987
Photograph: Johan Elbers | © John Cage
An extract from the Frankfurt Opera programme booklet: Yet, it is above all the techniques of composition that are seperated from the material, and it is this that creates the the 'comicalness' of the whole: the materials are all completely and utterly pre-existent as they were, i.e. they are not first generated by the composition, but are given an entirely new function by it. Cage consciously takes upt the tradition of the 'object trouvé' introduced by Marcel Duchamp. These materials are historical, 'antiquated' in crucial areas, the witness of a fragmentary remembrance that, nevertheless, goes to any lenghts to remeber, the relics of a tradition. The producers by means of which they were fused, in constellation, to form a composition are completely without precedent and their dimensions innumerable. They are the products of most recent history – indeed, following the decline of the idea of the coherently integrated artwork, they are truly the most advanced of all: computer-assisted chance operations.

 John Cage
«Europeras 1 & 2»

An extensive montage across the breadth of European culture produces a postmodern opera in the age of sampling. Most of the elements (101 different orchestra scores plus independent texts, plots, and stage sets) are chosen through randomizing processes from large archives or encyclopedias and combined using a computer program. The illumination is also controlled by a randomizing program that distributes light and shadow with no regard for what is happening on the stage. Only the arias of the two operas are chosen by the singers themselves and integrated into the sequence on the basis of their length. Cage explained: «The opera is not conducted, but held together by many video monitors; from the beginning of the opera on, a digital clock is depicted on the monitors; beginning at zero minutes and zero seconds, it tells the time until the end of each opera.»