John Cage’s Truckera: The Making Of

From 1985-87 John Cage worked on one of his most ambitiously scaled projects ever, a full-scale opera created by chance operation. “Europera 1 & 2” debuted at the Frankfurt Oper in late 1987, and they have been an object of longtime interest and fascination on this blog. But because my interest was first in the visual and material aspects of the production—the props, the canvas flats with blown up vintage opera imagery—I missed a key sound element: “Truckera.”

“Truckera” was a 3-minute sound loop made of 101 opera LPs recorded in batches, and mixed down in layers into one “thick” truck-like sound. “Truckera” was to be played by the percussion section of the “Europera” orchestra. Which, fine.

What is wild, though, is that Cage produced “Truckera” live, on air, on the Columbia University radio station, WKCR, with a studioful of turntables and DAT decks and a team of dozens of audio engineers. It took almost three hours.

In between takes and mixes, Cage and host Brooke Wentz chat; Cage reads excerpts of collaged-together synopses from “Europera’s” 12 different programs; and they play recordings of various recent or related works. All the while, the sounds, cues, and logistical banter of audio production continue in the background [or whatever the Cagean equivalent is.]

At times the broadcast feels like, if not quite a Cagean composition, then definitely a Cagean performance, the kind of lecture/musical event Cage did often on college campuses. But it’s actually something rarer: a chance [sic] to eavesdrop on some central moments of Cage’s actual production.

This all comes up now because the Truckera broadcast was recorded, and rebroadcast, and rebroadcast again. WKCR aired it last September 5 to mark Cage’s birthday. And Laura Kuhn, director of the John Cage Trust, just finished airing it—in three one-hour installments—on her weekly show, All Things Cage, on WXGC. I haven’t actually gotten through all three yet, but it’s already the best Cage recording I’ve heard this year.

All Things Cage on WXGC via Wavefarm:
30 Dec 2023: Opera Mix For and With John Cage (1987) Part I
06 Jan 2024: Opera Mix For and With John Cage (1987) Part II
13 Jan 2024: Opera Mix For and With John Cage (1987) Part III