Child of Tree (1975)

John Cage

Being on a tour in Arizona with the Cunningham Dance Company in 1975, one of dancers (Charles Moulton) brought a dried cactus to Cage, placed it near his ear and plucked the spines of it. This inspired Cage to use cacti as musical instruments in pieces like Child of Tree and Branches.

The score consists solely of performance instructions on how to select 10 instruments, using I-Ching chance operations. All instruments should be made of plant materials, or be just the plant materials themselves (e.g. leaves from trees, branches etc.). One of the instruments should be a pod (rattle) from a poinciana tree, which grow in Mexico.

“Using a stopwatch, the soloist improvises clarifying the time structure by means of the instruments. This improvisation is the performance”. (From performance instructions).

Published by Henmar Press

Annotated by Mike Daley


Program note by Samuel Solomon:

Child of Tree is a composed improvisation for plant materials. Cage specifies amplified cactus and pea pod shakers as two of ten “instruments” that are to be chosen by the performer. The aleatory is realized on three levels. First by the interpretation of the “score”: the instructions provided are written out in rough-draft-form in Cage’s chicken scratch, with words, sentences and paragraphs crossed out and scribbled over. The difficulty of reading the words and the ambiguity of what is and what is not crossed out adds and element of chance to the construction. Second, by the means of composing the structure: prior to the performance, the performer throws coins and interprets the results (heads or tails) by the oracle of the I Ching (the Chinese Book of Changes). These chance operations determine how many sections the prescribed 8 minutes is to be divided, the lengths of those sections and which instruments are to be used in which sections. And thirdly, aleatory is realized in the performance, which is simply an improvisation. The performer is instructed to “clarify the time structure by means of the instruments,” but even though the performance is completely designed by the performer, an element of chance still exists “because the improvisation can’t be based on taste and memory since one doesn’t know the instruments” (John Cage in an interview, 1982).