Consisting of a portfolio of seven artist books, The First Meeting of the Satie Society, is John Cage's personal tribute to the composer and man who provided so much of the inspiration for his avant-garde style of music making, the Frenchman Erik Satie. Published in 1992, the year of Cage's death, the work consists of a stainless steel valise, embossed with the poetical words of Satie and filled with seven books made from handmade paper and containing lyrical texts by John Cage and a selection of lithographs and etchings by some of the twentieth century's most influential artists including Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Sol LeWitt.
John Cage's repertoire was heavily influenced by that of Erik Satie. During his career Satie's main intention was to ridicule what he regarded as the 'pompous' in music and became captivated by the idea of reducing musical composition to its essential elements. His music was described by critics as sardonic and witty, brief and unpretentious. At a performance of one of the first theatrical work's in 1913, one critic remarked that Satie "might easily be described as 'Dada' except the 'Dadaist' movement had not yet been invented" (E. Myers quoted in C. Brown, Chance and Circumstances: twenty years with Cage and Cunningham, Evanston, 2007, p. 18). Cage has admitted that it was his love of Satie's work that caused him to rediscover what he termed his 'musical truth'. Following Satie's lead he began to free himself of the musical conventions of scales, modes and the traditional theories of counterpoint and harmony and became convinced that music was simply a pared-down combination of sound and silence.
The First Meeting of the Satie Society was originally conceived of as being a 'birthday party' for Erik Satie attended by people who had been influenced by his ideas. Each person would bring a 'present', that present being a series of texts and art works that conveyed what Satie meant to them. The main textural components of The First Meeting of the Satie Society are a series of unique variants of the idea of an acrostic, in which Cage uses a series of lines or verses in which the first, last, or other particular letters are taken in order to spell out a word or phrase, resulting in a series of visual poems. These mesostics, as Cage termed them, spell out the titles of some of Satie's most famous works and are accompanied by a series of specially commissioned works by artists that were close to Cage. From the geometric compositions of Sol LeWitt, to the gray forms of Jasper Johns to the sublime work of Robert Ryman, each of these hand-bound books is a unique tribute to the lasting influence of Eric Satie.
Originally conceived of as an edition of eighteen, this was later reduced to nine although it's thought that fewer than this were actually produced. Individually, each of these books is an exquisite visual mélange of words and images. Together they provide a thought-provoking tribute to a man who's pioneering ideas were still influencing the next generation of artists almost a century after they were first conceived.