When John Cage played chess with Marcel Duchamp…

When John Cage played chess with Marcel Duchamp…


norman lebrecht

March 06, 2018

Duchamp won.


On March 5, 1968 in Toronto, Marcel Duchamp and John Cage played a game of musical chess. Titled “Reunion,” the event drew an audience of hundreds to the Ryerson Theatre, where the two creative giants would activate a unique auditory experience through a specially constructed chess board that triggered different electronic compositions with each individual move…

Read on here.


photo caption: John Cage, “Reunion,” Gordon Ryerson Institute, University of Toronto, Ontario, March 5, 1968. Players: John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, and Teeny Duchamp. Musicians: David Behrman, David Tudor, and Lowell Cross (photo by Shigeko Kubota, courtesy the John Cage Trust)


  • JoBe says:

    Six years ago, I went to see the great exhibition dedicated to John Cage in the Akademie der Künste in Berlin: https://www.adk.de/de/programm/?we_objectID=30736.

    It was hugely interesting to see his works next to those of his mentors, colleagues, friends and followers. From what I saw, he was a dilettante at best, with lots of ideas but no real artistic personality. I think he is and will be remembered more for his guts, his intellect and for the people he was close to than for the depth of his creations, which appear very gimmicky indeed.

    Most people have forgotten or don’t even know some true giants of 20th century music, like Goffredo Petrassi or Wladimir Vogel, but they still talk about John Cage. This is, in my opinion, because the latter was more of an artist for other artists then an artist for art’s sake.

  • buxtehude says:

    That’s nothing. One day I’ll dig out my notes on the re-re-union a few months after.

    For that collaboration the two giants sat facing one another on matching toilet bowls outfitted internally (the bowls that is) with an array of very early photosite diodes and chemical receptors, all of which went crazy as warm organic material and fluids descended on or around them and triggered audio and visual effects throughout the external space.

    Alas this too was not recorded but is listed somewhere I think in the oeuve, with credit to someone named Mutt. Images and music, organic, from somewhere deep inside.

  • David R Osborne says:

    Ah yes, the difference between ‘creative giants’ and ‘intellectual pygmies’ being very much in the eye (or in this case ear) of the beholder.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Two charlatans.

  • Stephen says:

    I played ‘non-musical’ chess with Cage in Dallas, Texas in 1968 when he was in town when the Southern Methodist University Orchestra played one of his few orchestral pieces. I interviewed him for the local classical music station, and at the end of the interview asked me, “Would you like to play a game of chess?” I consider myself a darn good chess player, but he kicked my ass! He asked for another game, and I muttered something like, “Uh, I’ve got homework to do.” What a moment in my rich musical life!