John Cage and the Anechoic Chamber
Arranger of absences, gray-haired composer
of blank, Zen-minded man
who’d given accident a voice
and had followed the hexagrams of the I Ching
through to a concerto for chance
and twelve spare radios: he’d come
from New York to Cambridge on the train
for he’d heard they had an insulated room,
a honeycombed box of fiberglass and felt
where all the clatter of the world
was taken away. Maybe there
he would hear the raw noise made
by nothing at all, an absolute silence
like that out of which the universe began.
But when he stepped inside he found
that there were still noises: one
like the muΔed utterance
of a distant ocean, another like the high whistle
of wind on wire. The engineer told him
this was the rustle of blood in his veins,
the whisper of voltages flickering
through his own nerves. So there was no
absolute quiet, no throne of stillness
where you could sit as one removed from earth
and drink down the pure void. Instead
there was only his dream of silence
that he’d followed all the way to this room
at Harvard, where his very presence
made a sound, and his own listening
became the music he had come to hear.
Jay Leeming is the author of the poetry books Dynamite on a China Plate (Backwaters Press) and Miracle Atlas (Writers and Books). His poems have appeared in a variety of magazines including the Gettysburg Review, Pleiades, Ploughshares, and Poetry East, and he has been a featured reader at Butler University, the Omega Institute, Robert Bly’s Great Mother Conference, and the Woodstock Poetry Festival. He has taught poetry workshops in Santa Cruz, Minneapolis, England, Colorado, Oregon, Scotland, Rhode Island, and Maine, and is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is the founder and editor of the magazine Rowboat: Poetry in Translation and makes his home in Ithaca, New York.
“John Cage and the Anechoic Chamber” appears in our Spring 2013 issue.