John Cage in a motel room as part of PST

John Cage
Welcome Inn in Eagle Rock doesn't look much changed for maybe half a century. Rooms are $49.95 and have that motel smell. There are more modern motels along Colorado Boulevard, and they had vacancies when I drove by Sunday afternoon. Not Welcome Inn. And for a very good reason.

Room 17, on the second floor, was hot and stuffy, but as many people as possible squeezed in, sitting on the double beds or squatting on the floor while they earnestly focused on the “healing power of Sonic Energy." They were participating in one of Pauline Oliveros' meaningful “Sonic Meditations."

Downstairs, Room 3 also was jam-packed. Listeners strained to hear the slight swells of James Tenney's compulsively fascinating “Postal Pieces." Unable to elbow my way in, I stood outside the door, where I also heard wafting across the parking lot insistent chords from a violin tuned to the notes D-E-A-D. That idea came from conceptual artist Bruce Nauman.

“Welcome Inn Time Machine" was the grand finale to Pacific Standard Time's Performance and Public Art Festival. And welcome it was as an insightful and amusing consideration of the Los Angeles experimental music scene in the decade between 1955 and 1965. The Society for the Activation of Social Space Through Art and Sound (SASSAS), which produced this six-hour open house (open motel?) of micro concerts, very much lived up to its name.

But most importantly with this “Time Machine," along with “RE:COMPOSITION," SCI-Arc's PST presentation the night before, a major missing link in PST was at long last inserted. That is the significance of John Cage on West Coast art.

Although I was told it was a coincidence, Welcome Inn, which invites musical activities, happens to be within walking distance of the little house on Moss Avenue where Cage —- the first great and still most influential Los Angeles-born artist —- grew up in the early 1920s. Cage left L.A. in 1938 for Seattle and then New York, which makes him too early for the PST time frame of 1945-80.

But much of the conceptual and performance art that proved key to the West Coast scene would not have occurred in the same way, if at all, without Cage's multi-discipline examples in music, performance art, visual art, literature and aesthetics. With 2012 being the centennial of his birth and the 20th anniversary of his death, Cage's work will be prominent (indeed already is) this season in New York, Paris, Berlin, London and many other places.

A proper PST Cage piece is Variations IV, which took over two motel rooms. Cage wrote the score in a rented Malibu house on a summer day in 1963 and premiered it a week later at UCLA as the music played along with Merce Cunningham's “Field Dances." In 1965, Cage and pianist David Tudor realized a famous six-hour version of the Variations at the Feigen/Palmer Gallery in L.A., and a recording of excerpts became an major addition to the Cage discography.

On Sunday, Anita Pace created new Cunningham-esque choreography for her and Michelle Lai, as they danced up and down the stairs between the rooms in which Scott Benzel and Dave Muller spun real records on turntables and virtual ones with computer software. The score is graphic and indeterminate, and Cage and Tudor enjoyed using records and the radio as part of their sonic material.

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