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.  

This post brought back a lot of happy memories about John Cage. Thanks for this!
hey zac,
just found this online.
its cage's first performance of empty words (part IV) at naropa in 1974. great stuff.

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