Musician Jack Freudenheim ’79, working in conjunction with Larson Associates and the John Cage Trust, created an app that allows one to play the sounds of John Cage’s “prepared piano.” It was released in time to celebrate what would have been Cage’s 100th birthday.
An ethnomusicology major at Wesleyan concentrating on South Indian music, Freudenheim remembers reading John Cage’s book, Silence, as an undergraduate in the course “Introduction to Electronic Music” (taught by then-graduate student Nicolas Collins). He still considers reading the book a life-altering experience.
After college, he became a computer programmer—as well as a musician— “and whenever possible I merge the two,” he says.
With recent work for the John Cage Trust together with Larson Associates—a technology group that specializes in working with creative organizations and nonprofits—Freudenheim had a moment of inspiration: “It occurred to me as I was doing another app for the Trust, that it would be great to make a ‘prepared piano’ app, which would let you play the sounds of the prepared piano as John Cage used in some of his famous compositions.”
He approached executive editor of the trust Laura Kuhn, who responded with the utmost enthusiasm. “I thought it was absolutely fantastic, of course. When he told me he was in love with the project, I gave him our blessings.” She also notes that graphic designer Didier Garcia created “a dazzling visual interface,” the photograph montage of elements that appear on the app, which makes use of Cage’s original preparations. “The integrity of the project is very strong. Jack used the actual sounds,” she adds, “and the nuances are delightful. When you tap at the bottom of the box on the screen, it’s a softer sound than at the top.”
Freudenheim acknowledges the project was special. “Creating it has been a labor of love over the past year.”
The app is available for free for iPhone and Android. A larger version for the iPad cost 99 cents. In the week it debuted, it was ranked #5 in the music category on the App Store website.
While Freudenheim was delighted that the app received an enthusiastic welcome, he added that “the real pleasure of this app is to see someone learn about John Cage.”
He didn’t have to wait long to know this was happening: Not 12 hours after Freudenheim’s app was made available in the App Store, he learned that someone in Japan had posted a YouTube video of himself using the John Cage Prepared Piano app to compose a piece on his iPad.