Friday, July 14, 2006


Silence, Part 2

As expected, I have been pretty inefficient with getting my reading and comments done.  It’s been like 3 weeks, hasn’t it?  In any case, here are my comments on the next two essays, which are quite similar.  

Experimental Music
In this essay Cage proveds a description of what he means by experimental music, and offers some more prophesies about the future direction of his (at least) musical output.  In particular, he says that music should merge with theater, which pretty well describes the direction he took in the 60’s, with the Variations series and other works.  

Probably the most interesting part of the essay was his description of how the new (in 1958) ideas grew out of the freedom allowed by tape music—time was notated in space, because tape has so many inches per second; scales are abandoned or replaced because tape can record any sound and be modified in a continuous fashion electronically to any other sound.  Interestingly, he added morphology to the usual list of the characteristics of sound (timbre, pitch, duration, loudness), which I suppose is just a description of transition of the other characteristics over time.  

Curiously, Cage really talks up the ability to generate sounds of any pitch and continuously move through them, without relying on the stair steps of scales, but he made little use of microtonal composition directly in his music.  I suppose he was more interested in the noise side of things.  

I don’t quite comprehend his argument that any sound can be produced given, at a minimum, two tape recorders and one disc recorder. First, I don’t understand the significance of the disc recorder.  Second, he says any sound can be re-recorded with modifications from filters and circuits, but you certainly need all the filters and circuits in addition to the recorders!  I am also not confident in his assertion that tape manipulation through splicing and transformation of waveforms through electronic means are equivalent, either.

Experimental Music: Doctrine
This is largely the same discussion as the last essay, but in a different style, including a hypothetical “question and answer” session with Cage.  Most interesting is the final question and its curious response:

Question: But seriously, if this is what music is, then I could write it as well as you
Answer: Have I said anything that would lead you to think I thought you were stupid?

I am not certain how to take that.  The question is the usual criticism of Cage’s music, that it is too easy to write and that anyone could do it, although hardly anyone does.

The brief stories between the two essays were memorable.  One reminds us that the best way to get ideas is to do something boring, which I do quite often.  The other I never understood.  It is also recorded on the Indeterminacy CD set.  Cage describes moving to New York with only a a few dimes, and calling Max Ernst, who had previously invited them to live at he and Peggy Guggenheim’s home.  According to Cage, Ernst did not recognize his voice and asked if he wanted cocktails for some reason.  Cage told his wife what happened, and called again, at which point he was recognized.  This is rather confusing; did he not say, “This is John Cage” or something?  

I wish rich people would invite me over for cocktails if I called them up at random, whether or not it is done in jest...

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