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By Karen Nikos-Rose on October 23, 2017

The onetime radio host explains how he ended up photographing a record player cacophony at Freeborn Hall five decades ago

A computer programmer by day at UC Berkeley, Richard Friedman, who now lives in Oakland, dabbled in and cultivated an interest in electronic music in the 1960s.  He formed relationships with musicians, and Bay Area radio station KPFA journalists and disc jockeys. One day in 1969, the station's music director decided he wanted an interview with John Cage, a visiting artist at UC Davis in 1969-70. He did not have time to go out to Davis and interview Cage himself. Probably wanting to give the 25-years-young man a chance in the radio world, he sent Friedman off to Davis with a portable tape recorder.

“I had never interviewed anyone. I was scared to death,” said Friedman, whose interview eventually aired. It was the beginning of Friedman’s radio career, as he went on to broadcast radio shows on new music at two different San Francisco radio stations through 2005.

About the same period of time he interviewed Cage, who, Friedman said, “was very patient,” with the then inexperienced interviewer, he attended Cage’s 33 at Freeborn Hall on Nov. 21, 1969. Friedman carried a 35-millimeter camera wherever he went, so that night he shot some color slides of people walking amid record players and piles of records, playing music very loudly in what has been labeled “equal parts conceptual art installation and postmodern performance.”

John Cage '69
Visitors to 33⅓ exhibition at Freeborn Hall in 1969 meandered among record players, playing various records all at the same time, similar to today's exhibition at the Manetti Shrem Museum. Photos above and below by Richard Friedman

“There was a lot of chaos and it was very loud, not nearly as organized as the show at the museum right now,” he explained, having attended a pre-opening event at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art. His photos are on display in the museum exhibition, and have been used by media.  A combination of sources helped the museum track down Friedman.

John Cage 1969 FreebornHe apologizes for the quality of the photos.

“They were so bad. I was using daylight film, and it was dark inside that auditorium. I finally just converted them to black and white so they would look better.” Many of the images are blurred, having been shot in the dim room at what he remembers was “probably 1/30th of a second” exposure time.

“You can see,” referring to his photos, “people are mobbing these turntables and wondering what the hell they were supposed to be doing.”

Multiple concerts were performed on campus the same night

33⅓ was only one of the concerts being performed at UC Davis that night in Freeborn, classrooms and a paid, limited-audience event at Putah Creek Lodge. Called MEWANTEMOOSEICDAY, the combined event was the idea of local musician Stan Lunetta, of the UC Davis faculty, and John Dinwiddie, a UC Davis graduate student, who both were associated with Larry Austin, professor in the UC Davis music department.

Music map 1969
MEWANTEMOOSEICDAY was mapped out by the UC Davis Department of Music. Courtesy Department of Music.

Erik Satie’s Furniture Music for orchestra was being played continuously by members of the University Symphony Orchestra in the lobby of Freeborn Hall. Friedman remembers crawling over musicians and their instruments to get to where the 33 performance was happening in another part of the auditorium.  Satie’s Vexations, an iconic piece full of musical rests and repeats, was performed from about 6 a.m. to past midnight (repeated 840 times) in yet another room. According to an article in Source magazine, “at no time did it continue without an audience of at least one person.”

A copy of the map of the multiple performances, MEWANTEMOOSEICDAY, located in Department of Music Archives, is on display in the current museum exhibition along with other ephemera.  

John Cage | 33 is on view through Dec. 28 at the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, UC Davis. There is a full news release of the fall exhibitions.