Category Archives: Growing

“…ideas are to be found in the same way that you find wild mushrooms in the forest, by just looking…

…you can’t just come upon them directly, they come to you as things hidden.”

John Cage

Little known fact; legendary composer of experimental sounds, John Cage, was an ardent mushroom hunter. Which begs the question: how did his love of mushrooms, their unpredictable rhizomic structures, affect his art?

Through his art, Cage forced listeners to attend to the sounds around them, composed and incidental, a skill enriched by  mushroom hunting he believed . In one of the sections of his work, Indeterminacy (#113), he seems to make explicit this bond:

Music        and        mushrooms:
two        words        next        to        one
another        in        many        dictionaries.
Where        did
he        write        The        Three-Penny        Opera?
Now        he’s
buried        below        the        grass        at        the
foot        of        High        Tor.
Once        the        season
changes        from        summer        to        fall,
given        sufficient
rain,                                                    or        just
the        mysterious        dampness        that’s        in
the        earth,
mushrooms        grow        there,
carrying        on,
I        am        sure,
his        business        of        working        with
That        we
have         no         ears         to         hear         the
music         the         spores         shot         off
from         basidia         make         obliges         us
to         busy         ourselves         microphonically.

Cage explained how this passionate relationship started;

 “During the Depression, in California, I had no money. I was living in Carmel and around my shack grew mushrooms, I decided they were edible and lived on them.”

An amateur mycologist, Cage taught a class on mushroom identification at the New School for Social Research, he revived the New York Mycological Society in 1962, and his extensive fungi collection, is now housed at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In assembling his co-authored book, The Mushroom book, Cage left the visual presentations of his writings to the Chinese I Ching system of chance, a common method of decision making when creating his art to foregrounding indeterminacy.

John Cage, The Mushroom Book
John Cage, “Mushroom Book, Plate X” (1972), lithograph, 22 1/2 x 15 inches each, Edition 51/75 (© John Cage Trust at Bard College)