Sunday, April 30, 2006


New Discs Soon

I finally purchased two new Cage discs—the new Percussion Works disc and the Chess Pieces disc.  It took me awhile to find them for a decent price without excessive shipping charges; I still have not found such a situation for the disc with Eight on it.  There’s also a new recording of 4’33” out there, one of the few around.  Something to look forward to in the coming week!  I will probably rewrite my old 27’... review since the version on the Percussion Works 4 disc is surely a lot better (apologies that I don’t remember the numbers after the decimal point for that title), and I’ve also heard that Tan’s performance of Sonatas and Interludes is one of the best ever.  

I also happened upon the website for the “Positive Music” movement (, the author of which spends a fair amount of time complaining about the “negative” music Cage and Schoenberg.  A key quote:
My correspondence with John Cage, confirmed my belief that he was more a philosopher and a writer, than a composer.   He was a brilliant and gentle man.
His music was not intended to be meaningful, or moving, or listened to with any seriousness.   Young composers who admire his music, risk deluding themselves, believing there is musical and/or spiritual value--where there is nothing at all.   This was John Cage’s whole point---we create our own perception of value.  That philosophy does not often translate into beautiful or lasting music”
Contrary to what the author states, I think “serious” would be among the first words I’d think of when it comes to describing Cage as a composer.  Margaret Leng Tan mentions this in an interview on last week, when describing Cage’s straight answers to her joking questions about his music: “ wasn't that he didn't find my joking about his music funny - he didn't think there was anything funny about the making of music.”
If this were a different website I would comment on the author’s curious belief that  Backsteet Boys are a savior of modern pop music, but that would be too off-topic. :-)

Sunday, April 09, 2006


How I Got Here

If .there were more than about a dozen people that read my blog regularly, I imagine someone would write to me and ask how I got into John Cage in the first place.  I shall pretend someone did this and answer the question tonight.  

I first encountered the name John Cage in 2000, when I wrote to a friend, “Do you suppose anyone has ever made an album with a song that is nothing but silence?”  He answered yes and pointed me in the direction of 4’33”.  The impetus for the question was the fact that I had just heard Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music” for the first time during my initial year of college, and I was trying to think of every unusual kind of music performance that I could.

A year later I actually broke down and researched Cage a little bit, discovering that nearly every piece of music sounded exciting.  I ordered one of the readily available discs of his music, The Seasons, from Amazon in spring 2002, and over that summer I heard most of the older music for percussion and prepared piano.  The next year, my third year of college, I found Silence in a local bookstore and devoured it; I also purchased M and A Year From Monday, and enjoyed them (albeit less than Silence).

It was awhile before I got into Cage’s later chance-determined performances, but it was a natural outgrowth of an interest in randomness that I already had.  In the fall of 1999 while still in high school, I had an awful lot of free time, so I created a “random activity generator,” which gave me an activity to do from a preset list of about 100.  I also programmed a “random time generator” so that I could plan an entire day of randomly generated activates, although in practice I never actually did this!.  I also used chance for entertainment purchases—one of my favorites was to go to Wal-Mart with the same friend who introduced me to Cage and flip a coin repeatedly until we had chosen some random object to purchase (I believe we found some fishing bait once, a car-mountable reflector once, but I cannot remember any others...).  We also enjoyed driving around downtown Birmingham (Alabama, my hometown) listening to the static on a radio between stations (on the same token I liked to listen to electronic equipment on the radio, listening to the EM fields they generate).  

So in a way I guess I was primed to enjoy Cage long before I heard his music!

On another note, I found a lot of entertaining pages and quotes about Cage during my online research concerning his unrecorded works from the 80’s, such as Wishing Well.  In a performance of that work along with others, it, Aria, and Variations I were characterized as “minor pieces,” whose premises could be understood in one listen and which cemented Cage’s reputation as a man with ideas more interesting than his music.  Another author, mentions the humorous (well, probably not at the time!) situation of chatting with Cage, who tells him that his music is “irritating.”  I thought it was especially amusing because Cage often criticized others for not being open to “uninteresting experiences.”  Ah well.  

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