Mushroom Foraging with John Cage  

The great American composer John Cage once wrote, “I have come to the conclusion that much can be learned about music by devoting oneself to the mushroom.” 

John Cage Foraging for mushrooms, from William Gedney.

He was an amateur mycologist throughout his life, and this summer, his writings about fungi will be re-released in a gorgeous collection, John Cage: A Mycological Foray.

Decades after the book was published in an enormous format, Atelier Éditions will bring out a reprint that readers can enjoy. 

Atelier Éditions is a limited-edition publishing house that specializes in archival monographs, contemporary art books, and exploratory printed matter. 

One section of the book is printed on environmental Cartamela paper, a product derived from the industrial waste of apple processing.

This section pays homage to Cage’s 1990 art series, Edible Drawings, illustrations created on paper that could be recycled as food. 

Cage used mushrooms for food while living as a starving artist in Carmel during the Depression.

“I didn’t have anything to eat … So I picked one of the mushrooms and went in the public library and satisfied myself that it was not deadly, that it was edible, and I ate nothing else for a week.” 

 

The great composer even brought his love of mushrooms and being an amateur mycologist to the university. Starting in 1959, he began teaching a course about mushrooms at the New School in New York City along with horticulturist, Guy Nearing.

An Artsy article described that delicious classroom experience:

The class, which included Fluxus artists Alison Knowles and Dick Higgins, went on foraging expeditions, but only to woods accessible through the city’s public transportation system. Creating a positive out look on mycology and Cage as a mycologist himself. They held large dinners to consume their spoils, and their Annual Banquet even made it into the culinary pages of the New York Times.

The Sound of Fungi

Music and nature are intertwined in the work of contemporary creators as well. 

Merlin Sheldrake, the author of Entangled Life, recorded the sound of the Pleurotus fungus consuming his new book. He made some wonderful music with the sound.

You can watch the whole video here: 

Merlin explained the idea behind the video:

“The fungus made such a good noise that I couldn’t resist playing along on the piano… The video and recording of the book being digested was made by the sound ecologist Michael Prime (Youtube: ‘Carbon Ladder’). The electrodes record the bioelectric activity of the fungus alongside its galvanic response (like a lie detector). These data streams control a tunable oscillator. Michael Prime uses filters to shape the raw oscillator signal, but the fluctuations in pitch and rhythm that you hear are a real-time sonic representation of the activity of the fungus as it eats the book.” 

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