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There and then to here and now: Ehmke on Cage

Ron Ehmke performs on Sunday at the Burchfield Penney Art Center as part of a 23-day festival dedicated to John Cage. (Charlie Lewis / The Buffalo News)

I dropped by day three of the Burchfield Penney Art Center's 23-day John Cage festival on Sunday to check out performances by Ron Ehmke, Kyle Price and J.T. Rinker. I have to identify myself here as something of a Cage neophyte and say that I am attracted by the philosophy behind the performances and the festival in general, without knowing as much about the composer's work as I'd like to. That said, there are 20 days left in the festival, and I intend to get my fill of Cage before it's over.

Out of what I saw today, Ehmke's relatively conventional storytelling performance was what grabbed me most. 

Cage, who was of course one of the 20th century's great explorers the musical unknown, could hardly be described as conventional. So I was surprised to learn, from Ehmke, that the composer was also an accomplished, compelling and funny storyteller. That's something that obviously appeals to Ehmke, who, through his solo performances and work with such outfits as the Real Dream Cabaret, embodies all those attributes. (Hear an audio interview with Ehmke after the jump.)

Ehmke's performance was short but full of humor. I grabbed some audio of it, but the acoustics of the Burchfield's East Gallery are such that Ehmke's voice sounds like an economics lecture delivered behind a wall of pillows and filtered through an underwater speaker. Which is of course not at all what it was like. But not to worry -- Ehmke will perform one more version of his piece, titled "60 Stories, Retold," on Feb. 11 and 24. (My bad: There is no performance on Feb. 24.) Highly recommended.

Fortunately, I did manage to catch up with Ehmke after his performance. We talked a little about what attracts people to Cage and his work and repels them from it, and why, in the end, that's perfectly OK. It runs about 20 minutes, and for those looking for a little insight into what Cage's work is all about, it's a good listen:

(I feel compelled to note for the record, that, despite my bumbling question, I do know the difference between form and content. Also that Ron thinks the ascendant weirdness in much pop music is not necessarily a good thing.)

--Colin Dabkowski



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