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Get Sonic With John Cage

Posted: Mar 02 2017

John Cage – avant guardian and chance enhancer - found fluidity between performance and painting, music and movement, headspace and hymn.  The composer socked sixties sound structure by proving false the preconception that musicians must make the melodies. 

Event, environment, situation, spectators all play integral roles in production, shifting the center of attention from the inner self to unpremeditated variables.  While Cage’s go-to tune tools were metal and gadgets and everyday objects, it was his application of quietness that altered audiences’ approach to listening. 

 

Though Cage said many times he had no feeling for harmony, he was a believer in Bach and smitten with Stravinsky, hoping experimental maestro Arnold Schoenberg would pick him as pupil; a move that would of course have him beating his heady head against the traditional songwriting wall. 

 

In his early years, he created the ‘prepared piano’ by placing items in, on, under, and around piano strings in order to affect the acoustics.  With Merce Cunningham, his life-long lover and creative collaborator, he combined composition and choreography in live pieces set designed by fine art friends Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, accidentally authoring the “happening.”  Cage called on Buddhism, invested in the I-Ching, to inform him how to re-assemble random recordings, a Neo-Dada development he devised. 

From Fluxus (anti-commercial and anti-art activities) to fungi (co-founding the New York Mycological Society), Cage cultivated his creativity inside and outside the orchestral, operatic orbit.  He was perhaps best known for his 1952 piece 4’33’ – a three movement composition lasting four minutes and thirty-three silent seconds that he feared would be incomprehensible in the Western context. 

 

But decades of his instrumentation innovations touched titans like Philip Glass and Steve Reich, song-mongers Stereolab and Sonic Youth, art world wunderkinds, music theorists, fans, followers, coolies and critics, all testifying that late twentieth century sonic stylings belonged to John Cage. 

 

 

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