Rarely heard live recording of a John Cage and Sun Ra performance from 1986. It was recorded at Sideshows by the Sea, the last surviving freak show along the Coney Island boardwalk. A carnival barker and a snake lady hawked the show outside and there was free pizza served, too. Can you imagine?!?! This concert took place on June 8th and pressed as a limited edition LP the following year.
Tyler Fisher writes on Sputnik Music:
Due to variety and musicality, Sun Ra heavily defeats John Cage on the performance. He opens the concert with a huge, furious, dissonant keyboard performance. The crowd cheers wildly and the spacey synthesizer sounds jump all around the range of the instrument and jump around in styles just as quickly. Elements of jazz flow in and suddenly a huge, orchestral sounding chord will overpower the recording instrument. The synth voices change frequently from a typical square lead voice to a bell sound to a synthesized voice. Sun Ra uses his range of voices perfectly, creating a heavy, metallic sound at some points which makes an even more frenzied sound to the already insane harmonic structure. He manages to jump from the most beautiful chords to the most dissonance in a matter of seconds. His first appearance goes on for 7 and a half minutes, garnering tumultuous applause from the audience. He later closes out the first half of the performance with a much more eastern tinged movement. Just when his playing couldn’t get any darker, he spends most of the second half making ambient, creepy noises. Much in the manner of the Mars Volta, he goes off without any sense of time or rhythm, creating whatever comes to mind. However, he lets the ambience slowly build into huge, crashing chords of either beauty or dissonance. Everything is going somewhere.
John Cage is just the opposite. His performance is much simpler. He merely steps up to a microphone and makes strange vocal noises. Cage’s voice sounds akin to an aging Johnny Cash. However, Cage never steps over saying more than 3 or 4 syllables at a time. He takes minute breaks before starting another few indistinguishable syllables. Of course, he relies on his “chance music” theory to get away with the minutes of silence. Sure, it’s a profound and intriguing idea, but it just gets old after a few minutes, especially when the recording buzzes in the background due to the quality. In truth, Cage is reciting excerpts from one of his poems in some strange language, known as Empty Words IV. However, who knows what he is saying? Luckily, Sun Ra saves the performance on the second half by filling in where Cage leaves silence. He fills with light, dainty keyboard lines way up high on the keys. He lets Cage have the show, not doing much of anything, but neither Cage still does less than Sun Ra. Cage proves a better composer and philosopher than a performer. Regardless, the crowd eats everything up, probably being mostly young, profound college kids themselves.
You can download John Cage meets Sun Ra at Adventure-Equation.
Read the back of the album cover, here.