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"Everything we do is music."
April 17, 2012 7:52 AM   Subscribe

John Cage Unbound, A Living Archive is a multimedia exhibition created by the New York Public Library documenting their collection of videos, original notes and manuscripts of contemporary American composer and music theorist John Cage (1912-1992). "Cage believed that, following his detailed directions, anyone could make music from any kind of instrument" so the NYPL is asking visitors how they would bring his music to life, by submitting videos of their own interpretations of Cage’s work for possible inclusion in the archive. For more extensive collections of John Cage resources, see: WNYC: A John Cage Web Reliquary and Josh Rosen's fan page.

Wikipedia's page on him is quite extensive, and notes: "A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde."

John Cage Database

Here's a nice playlist on Youtube for some of his works, including (of course) 4'33" which was highlighted previously on MeFi.
posted by zarq (21 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
In 1983, Peter Greenaway directed the Four American Composers documentary series, and Cage was one of those highlighted. The other three: Phillip Glass, Meredith Monk and Robert Ashley.
posted by zarq at 7:54 AM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I use John Cage's 4'33" as a ring tone.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:57 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is great.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:16 AM on April 17, 2012


Musically, Cage pretty much means everything to me. My own compositional mentor was actually a self styled enemy to Cage. A third party who was there for one of their conversations related it something like this:

Herbert: "John, your music denies human intention. This is fascism."
*John gives Herbert a hug*
John: "I love you too, Herbert"

Cage was kind of a jerk in day to day life, or so they said. He liked to drive up to a four way stop and just idle at the sign. When another car showed up he waited for them to stop, then waived them through. As they started to move he would too. He would repeat this process, seeing how long he could keep someone at an intersection. Once he threw a party where he served raw peanuts. Someone took him aside, complaining that the peanuts were a terrible snack, and they tasted like shit. His response: "yeah, I can't stand them, I wanted to see if anyone would actually eat them".

I have been only recently learning to play Indonesian music, introduced to it first in a roundabout way through Cage's prepared piano work. Cage's prepared piano has about as much in common with Indonesian music as Mozart's music does with the Turkish music he was supposedly inspired by, but without Cage I don't know that I would have found Gamelan. Also, in retrospect, the non-harmonic scales of Indonesia are the perfect third way out of the Serialist / retrograde Neo-Romantic quagmire of the '40s. Much is said about the rhythmic emphasis and timbre, but I think it was perfectly suited to that time as a non-tonal tradition during that crisis of tonality.

In the long term, I think that Cage's rough edges are going to be forgotten. So many of his compositions are open to reinterpretation and flexible to new styles and tastes, he will be less and less the enemy of good taste and more the icon of new age easy listening soundscape. But for me, he will always be the champion of putrid sound, the enemy of good taste.
posted by idiopath at 8:41 AM on April 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


In the long term, I think that Cage's rough edges are going to be forgotten.

Somehow I doubt this, because so many of his specifically notated pieces retain their abrasiveness. I saw a concert of Cage, Stockhausen and Mefi's Own ob recently -- none of them especially cuddly composers -- and it was striking how lumpy Cage's Concerto for Prepared Piano seemed in comparison to the other two. And that's not even a particularly coarse one for Cage.
posted by speicus at 8:55 AM on April 17, 2012


Good place to mention Cage's "As Slow As Possible" piece

"The current organ performance of the piece at St. Burchardi church in Halberstadt, Germany, began in 2001 and is scheduled to have a duration of 639 years, ending in 2640." (Wikipedia)
posted by aught at 8:57 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


This video of Richard Kostelanetz interviewing John Cage about Writing Through Finnegans Wake is one of my favourite videos. It's a wonderful introduction to Cage's writing techniques and work. It's also hilarious, because Kostelanetz has laryngitis. And Cage comes across as such a consummately wonderful teacher and person. His curiousity is infectious.
posted by oulipian at 9:00 AM on April 17, 2012


I'm still reading the links, which are excellent, but I'm just going to drop in to give everyone Nicolas Cage Performs John Cage (4'33").
posted by The Bellman at 9:05 AM on April 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


The Bellman: "Nicolas Cage Performs John Cage (4'33") ."

That's brilliant.
posted by zarq at 9:28 AM on April 17, 2012


I was lucky enough to be a part of a performance of Song Books in college. I was the resident electronic music person in the ensemble, so I did a lot of the electronics stuff. Lots of contact microphones and objects, along with the singing/reciting. I had found this old manual typewriter that really had heft and resonance to its sound. That thing was a real instrument. I'm sad that I no longer possess that thing. We did the piece in an art gallery, simultaneously in different areas, so people would wander through and hear the different pieces. Was a great experience.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 10:01 AM on April 17, 2012


Herbert: "John, your music denies human intention. This is fascism."
Reminded of Cornelius Cardew's classic 'Stockhausen Serves Imperialism'. He was a laugh riot, was Cornelius.
posted by Abiezer at 11:10 AM on April 17, 2012


Relevant: Nic Cage does John Cage's 4'33"
posted by kuanes at 11:16 AM on April 17, 2012


Once he threw a party where he served raw peanuts. Someone took him aside, complaining that the peanuts were a terrible snack, and they tasted like shit. His response: "yeah, I can't stand them, I wanted to see if anyone would actually eat them".

Much like his compositions.
posted by clarknova at 11:37 AM on April 17, 2012


Excellent post, zarq! I've been stoked on John Cage ever since stumbling across his manifesto Silence over twenty years ago. I've mounted a classroom production of Song Books with fifth graders, performed Imaginary Landscapes No. 4 in a Silverlake bar with speicus, explained Cage's compositional process to bewildered symphony patrons after this amazing San Francisco Symphony performance (Meredith Monk! Jessye Norman! Michael Tilson Thomas!), and even gotten a tattoo of the score to 4'33" on my bicep.

If you're a Bay Area musician who would be interested in playing some of Cage's work this summer (2012 is the centennial of his birth), or if you know someone who would be interested in this, then definitely MeMail me. Superior musicianship isn't necessary for most of his stuff.
posted by the_bone at 12:26 PM on April 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Much like his compositions.

Dude, read a book.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:34 PM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Superior post, thanks.

Cage really was the most important figure in 20th century music, and maybe art, possibly the most critical innovator in the art world since Beethoven invented art (maybe with the exception of Satie, who Cage took after, though in a much more drastic way). I've always found it interesting that Danto didn't know much about Cage until years after he'd been working out his philosophy, and I often wonder how different Danto's work, which largely codified the major shift in art and aesthetics that was happening mid-century, might have turned out if it wasn't all about Warhol but had taken Cage's work into account as well.

Cage is interesting because he stood right on this really critical edge. Things like 4'33" did still in fact have scores, they were still 'performed,' presumably, for an audience. And it was the post-Cage art world, largely influenced by Cage, that really broke, and things have never been the same (for better or for worse). Every direction from Cage was a sort of drastic reaction. On the one side, there was this sort of effort to reorganize things, to put something back into place that Cage had broken - you see this in the minimalism of Terry Riley or even Feldman (a friend and student of Cage's) to the extremely aleatoric or electronic or spatial Stockhausen (also a Cage connection) to late Beatles. On the other hand, there was this move to take Cage's chance operation methods and the like to the extreme, and completely disorganize music and art in general - and you see this in things like Fluxus, which (along with some influence from Maciunas), came largely out of Cage's late 50s lectures at the New School.

It isn't that simple of course, but one way of looking at art post Danto, especially music, is this sort of Cage-induced fracture. And it seems to me that, looking back, the fluxus stuff was more of a kind of Cage lineage, while the minimalism sort of stuff was more of a reaction against, and the verdict seems to be that the minimalism stuff kind of won out, in its way. Or at least it still has popular and living remnants, where Fluxus is, basically, a dead movement (which, because it meant to be a non-movement movement, is an interesting topic but altogether separate). Of course, we've also seen a huge revival in neo-classical music in the concert music world, and a few other tangents like spectralism and psychoacoustic whatnot.

So yeah, I really do think that pretty much all of the 'art' music (yeah yeah yeah) we see today (and leaving arguments about history and causation and inheritance generally aside), is largely due to Cage's influence, either as a reaction against or an homage.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:16 PM on April 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Once he threw a party where he served raw peanuts. Someone took him aside, complaining that the peanuts were a terrible snack, and they tasted like shit. His response: "yeah, I can't stand them, I wanted to see if anyone would actually eat them".

At that point I would have punched him right in the mouth and said "why don't you try them again, John? They might be better mixed with a little blood."
posted by jamjam at 1:50 PM on April 17, 2012


I have nothing to add but this: "She whistled a John Cage song and started asking me about wolves' balls." Carry on.
posted by friendlyjuan at 2:04 PM on April 17, 2012


> I use John Cage's 4'33" as a ring tone.
> posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:57 AM on April 17

Me too. But 4'33" is just too long for a ring tone so instead of rudely chopping it off at measure 5 I stuck it into Audacity and sped it way up. Preserved pitch, of course.
posted by jfuller at 2:16 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Has anyone else noticed that this is zarq's 433rd MeFi post?
posted by matildaben at 3:21 PM on April 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Whoa. Neat!
posted by zarq at 4:27 AM on April 19, 2012


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