CHAPTER 5
John Cage's Early Warning System

Malevich and Tsiolkovski's dream of space travel would be made achievable by developments in weaponry at the end of the Second World War. In particular the technology that made possible the VI and V2 missiles with which Hitler had hoped to alter the course of the war was later employed by the United States in the 'space race' that culminated in the Moon landing. The same technology was also, of course, used for post-war nuclear and conventional missiles. At the same time, parallel developments in jet propulsion offered the possibility of far greater speeds for manned flight. During and immediately after the war it led to a 'speed race' in which the aim was to achieve ever-greater speeds in the air. But these foundered as pilots approached the speed of sound, otherwise known as Mach I, after Ernst Mach, the physicist who had determined its existence. Though the actual speed varied according to altitude and other factors, it appeared in all circumstances an insurmountable challenge. As Tom Wolf puts it in his book The Right Stuff,

Evil and baffling things happened in the transonic zone, which began at about
.7 Mach. Wind tunnels choked out at such velocities. Pilots who approached
the speed of sound in dives reported that the controls would lock or 'freeze' or
even alter their normal functions. Pilots crashed and died because they couldn't
budge the stick… Geoffrey de Havilland, son of the famous British aircraft
designer and builder, had tried to take one of his father's OH I08s to Mach I.
The ship started buffeting and then disintegrated, and he was killed. This led
engineers to speculate that the g-forces became infinite at Mach I, causing the
aircrafts to implode. They started talking about 'the sonic wall' and 'the sound
barrier'. (Wolf, 2001: 49–50)

-89-

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Art, Time, and Technology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1: Breaking the Time Barrier 13
  • Chapter 2: Morse's Inventions 35
  • Chapter 3: The Writing of Van Gogh 53
  • Chapter 4: Taking off 73
  • Chapter 5: John Cage's Early Warning System 89
  • Chapter 6: Art in Real Time 113
  • Chapter 7: Is It Happening? 139
  • Chapter 8: Short Films about Flyin 159
  • Bibliography 179
  • Index 189
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