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‘Variations III’ to have Opensound in circles

John Cage. Victor Drees/Evening Standard/Getty Images/file 1966/Getty

On June 15, at the Third Life Studio in Somerville’s Union Square, Opensound will present its sixth concert of the year, featuring electronic musician Lou Cohen, a duo performance by guitarist Kevin Frenette and trumpeter Forbes Graham, and the free-improvisation trio Kobold.

The concert will also feature what has come to be an annual Opensound tradition, a performance of John Cage’s 1963 “Variations III.”

“Variations III” is at once one of Cage’s most nonspecific and intricate compositions. Each performer (“one or any number of persons”) is to cut out 42 identical circles from a sheet of transparent plastic and drop them on top of each other; the largest group of linked circles becomes that performer’s score.


“Starting with any circle, observe the number of circles which overlap it,” Cage instructs. “Make an action or actions having the corresponding number of interpenetrating variables.” The process is repeated for each circle.

Cage doesn’t say what the action or actions should be, or if they even need to be musical actions. (One performance given by Cage himself included the heavily amplified sounds of him smoking a cigarette, writing a letter, and drinking a glass of water.) But the detailed preparations — almost a form of meditative practice — show how, for Cage, freedom for the performers was impossible without the performers freeing themselves.

“When this freedom is given to people who are not disciplined,” Cage once said, “who are not, in other words, changed individuals, but who remain people with particular likes and dislikes, then, of course, the giving of freedom is of no interest whatsoever.”

Opensound, www.opensound.org