Watch: Merce Cunningham & John Cage: Roaratorio

Roaratorio was a commission from the West German Radio and IRCAM for Cage to realize a work based on his favorite book, Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. Cage began by making a text from the original (which became Writing for the Second Time Through Finnegans Wake, also issued here in its entirety), and cataloging the many sounds and locations mentioned in the book. A recording of each sound was made at the noted locations – virtually every sound/location was recorded. These were then laid out in the sequence in which they are mentioned in the Wake and mixed, along with Cage’s rendering of the text, into a massive collage of 62 tracks of tape lasting about an hour. Added to this is live accompaniment from leading Irish musicians on traditional instruments, performing traditional Irish music.”

Cage sought to distance traditional ideas of melody, rhythm and harmony from his definition of music. Cunningham sought to distance traditional relationships between sets, costumes, music, rhythm and dance. They believed that something interesting happened when dance and music acted independently and the spark of their interaction was chance. Music and dance still have a relationship here, however. What is it?

A 2010 review from the New York Times


  1. I dot know what the total experience could be but I felt like I was viewing a busy intersection but in isolation. I didn’t feel connected to the sound or the movements. I fet isolated but surrounded at the same time.