Writings through John Cage's Music, Poetry, and Art
edited by David W. Bernstein and Christopher Hatch
University of Chicago Press, 2001
Cloth: 978-0-226-04407-1 | Paper: 978-0-226-04408-8 | Electronic: 978-0-226-04487-3
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

This volume looks at the creative work of the great avant-gardist John Cage from an exciting interdisciplinary perspective, exploring his activities as a composer, performer, thinker, and artist.

The essays in this collection grew out of a pivotal gathering during which a spectrum of participants including composers, music scholars, and visual artists, literary critics, poets, and filmmakers convened to examine Cage's extraordinary artistic legacy. Beginning with David Bernstein's introductory essay on the reception of Cage's music, the volume addresses topics ranging from Cage's reluctance to discuss his homosexuality, to his work as a performer and musician, and his forward-looking, provocative experimentation with electronic and other media. Several of the essays draw upon previously unseen sketches and other source materials. Also included are transcripts of lively panel discussions among some of Cage's former colleagues. Taken together, this collection is a much-needed contribution to the study of one of the most significant American artists of the twentieth century.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

David Berstein is an associate professor of music and dean of Fine Arts at Mills College. Before his retirement in 1992.

Christopher Hatch taught music for almost 40 years at Columbia University.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Acknowledgments

- David W. Bernstein
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226044873.003.0001
[John Cage, propagandist, avant-garde, self-expression, musicians, composer, Gordon Mumma]
This book highlights the works of John Cage, who is known as a tireless provocateur and propagandist for a small community of avant-garde musicians, artists, and writers. Today his work is recognized around the world. A major landmark in Cage scholarship was constituted in the conference entitled “Here Comes Everybody: The Music, Poetry, and Art of John Cage,” which took place at Mills College in Oakland, California from November 15 to 19, 1995. Cage came to terms with his homosexuality through Zen Buddhism at the same time that he developed an artistic philosophy based upon the negation of self-expression. Gordon Mumma, a composer and performer who collaborated with Cage at a time when both worked with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, documents aspects of Cage's activities as a performer. Though, the scope and influence of Cage's activities are far too extensive to address, but this book describes the importance of his creative activities in a variety of fields. (pages 1 - 6)
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- David W. Bernstein
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226044873.003.0002
[Cage, culture, musical style, music, art, compositional processes]
This chapter places Cage within a broad historical context and examines his relationships to developments in twentieth-century culture and musical style. Cage's ties to twentieth-century modernism are explored, and the chapter claims that this retrospective view may facilitate a critical appraisal of his music and thought. Toward the end of 1960, Cage paid increasing attention to the relation between art and political and social structures. In composing the First Construction, as in his twelve-tone works written during the period from 1935–1938, Cage began with a collection of motivic groups, or cells. Cage's concept of musical form was revolutionary, but the radical results of his compositional processes were achieved through more conventional means, namely, through modernist precision, with its systematic attention to detail and control of the materials used in composition. Thus, through his redefinition of musical form, Cage created works modeling desirable political and social structures. (pages 7 - 40)
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- Jonathan D. Katz
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226044873.003.0003
[Cage's silence, silence, homosexuality, self-expression, silent piece]
This chapter explains aspects of Cage's life seldom discussed in Cage scholarship. It suggets that he came to terms with his homosexuality through Zen Buddhism at the same time as he developed an artistic philosophy based upon the negation of self-expression. Cage's silence in this sense implies his reluctance to mention his sexuality. This chapter maintains that Cage's silence was rooted in his ideological convictions rather than a strategy for avoiding post-World War II homophobia. His silence was a moral stance and it was a way to resist the errors of oppositional politics, which according to Cage, only “make matters worse.” The “silent piece,” 4′33′′, by Cage supplies us with a way to expose the issues associated with listening to and performing Cage's music. (pages 41 - 61)
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- Austin Clarkson
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226044873.003.0004
[Cage, music, spirituality, transpersonal effect, Cage's music, musical experience]
This chapter focuses on quintessential exemplification of Cage's tendency to link music and spirituality by 4′33′′ composed by Cage. According to Cage, the purpose of music was to sober the mind and make it susceptible to divine influences. This chapter elucidates the understanding of Cage's views concerning spirituality exhibiting from writings by William James, Carl Jung, Meister Eckhart, and Daisetz Suzuki. Performing and listening to a composition by Cage has a transpersonal effect and it can lead to a heightened state of being by engaging the creativity of those who experience it. It is shown that spirituality, for Cage, results from a psychological transformation rather than a religious one. Thus, there is a need to develop analytical techniques that address this mode of musical experience and suggests some preliminary methods that can help one to perform and listen to Cage's music. (pages 62 - 112)
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- Gordon Mumma
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226044873.003.0005
[Gordon Mumma, Cage, musical abilities, performer, disciplined, dance, performances]
Gordon Mumma, a composer and performer who collaborated with Cage at a time when both worked with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, documents aspects of Cage's activities as a performer. He presents Cage's work as pianist and percussionist both in concert and as dance accompanist, his performances with David Tudor and others using electronic media, and his virtuosic readings of his own poetry. The myths about Cage's musical abilities were dispelled by Mumma demonstrating that he was in fact a skilled and sensitive performer. With the Cunningham Dance Company, Cage often played the music of other composers; examples besides the Behrman and Lucier works already cited include the work of Toshi Ichiyanagi for Scramble (1967) and Pauline Oliveros for Canfield (1969). Cage loved performing and he was nourished by the performing experience, even under difficult circumstances. Thus, as a performer he was disciplined, reliable, and imaginative with creative decisions. (pages 113 - 119)
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- Deborah Campana
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226044873.003.0006
[Cage, temporal structures, Imaginary Landscape No. 1, music, dancers, Solo for Piano for the Concert, social relationships]
This chapter elaborates the sequential design on how Cage approached ideas and channeled them through a variety of temporal structures. His Imaginary Landscape No. 1, composed in 1939, is scored for what he called muted piano, sizzle cymbal, and sound-effects recordings. He composed music for dancers and made the acquaintance of others in the arts community during 1940. Cage composed the Solo for Piano for the Concert by selecting events from either Winter Music or Music for Piano and using them exactly as they appear, or by varying them, or, a fourth possibility, by composing a completely new event. One of Cage's last large-scale works, 108, is scored for orchestra and constructed as a series of time brackets or durational ranges Cage was fascinated with the social relationships that arise between a score and the performers' parts that must interpret them. (pages 120 - 136)
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- John Holzaepfel
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226044873.003.0007
[David Tudor, music, John Cage, graph, performance score, Solo for Piano]
David Tudor's name continues to be linked with the music of John Cage and his Solo for Piano is a compendium of notational techniques in experimental music. The Solo for Piano is a collection of eighty-four different notational techniques distributed across sixty-three pages 11 by 17 inches in size. Tudor measured either the area or the length of each graph according to its particular morphology and with whatever means of measurement he found appropriate to a graph's individual form and shape to determine the attack points of his readings of Cage's graphs within the ninety-minute time frame of the realization. Tudor typed his list of attack points and their sources into his master table to prepare the performance score and he then transcribed the appropriate reading to its place in his score. Hence, Tudor's second realization of the Solo for Piano marks the beginning of a transition from pianist to sonic artist. (pages 137 - 156)
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- Paul Van Emmerik
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226044873.003.0008
[Cage, music, New York Public Library, Cage Nachlass, folios, Cage research, source materials]
This chapter outlines the future of Cage research and lists the collection of more than twenty-five thousand folios of Cage's music manuscripts now located at the New York Public Library. With the availability of these materials ushers in a new era in Cage research, “Here comes everybody” becomes “Here comes everything.” A careful assessment of the Cage Nachlass may take many years, but it will undoubtedly lead to noteworthy discoveries. It is pointed out that studying Cage's source materials is crucial when analyzing his music from 1950, because his compositional decisions took place before a score was realized through chance operations. This chapter also demonstrates the usefulness of this methodology through an analysis of Three, one of Cage's number pieces, for which thirty-nine folios of source materials exist. (pages 157 - 166)
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- Gordon Mumma, Allan Kaprow, James Tenney, Christian Wolff, Alvin Curran, Maryanne Amacher
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226044873.003.0009
[Cage, James Tenny, music, Christian Wolff, Maryanne Amacher, Allan Kaprow, Alvin Curran, opera]
This chapter explains the impact of Cage's work on five of his former colleagues in terms of their own work and as well as that of others. An account of Cage's classes in experimental music at the New School for Social Research in 1950 is given by Allan Kaprow. Cage's historical role is assessed by James Tenney, who claims that by eliminating personal expression from music Cage brought to an end a period in music history that started with the beginnings of opera in the early seventeenth century. Christian Wolff writes that Cage's groundbreaking discoveries helped others pursue their individual and independent creative paths. Maryanne Amacher hopes to remain open to changes of the same magnitude of those that have occurred in future. Lastly, Alvin Curran, discusses his own work with the improvisatory performing group Musica Elettronica Viva, telling us that although Cage disliked improvisation, he was an important source of inspiration for this group. (pages 167 - 189)
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- Pritchett James, Tenney James, Culver Andrew, White Frances
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226044873.003.0010
[Cage, computer, sound synthesis, Bell Labs, James Tenney, noise, algorithmic composition]
This chapter outlines Cage's aesthetics and discusses how they affected his own pioneering work on computer sound synthesis at the Bell Labs during 1960. James Tenney credits his concentration in noise and algorithmic composition using random number generation to Cage's influence. He suggests that there is an important point of contact with Cage's working methods in describing stochastic processes as constrained random processes, because Cage perpetually built constraints into his own compositional systems before using chance operations. In Andrew Culver's remarks controlled randomness is described along with the description of the computer programs he created for Cage. Culver provides a captivating overview of the computer programs that Cage used in composing music and writing poetry. An insight into Cage's working methods, which are also the focus of comments from the third panelist, Frances White, is provided. (pages 190 - 209)
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- Jackson Mac Low
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226044873.003.0011
[Cage's writings, skillful means, expository prose, music, asyntactical, Song Books, experimental music]
This chapter provides a wide-ranging survey of Cage's writings through to 1980. Cage often termed performance as “skillful means” indeterminate to the use of chance operations and the composition of works. Much of his writing includes his elegantly composed expository prose and skillfully told stories, most of them taken from his friend's lives or his own. While his principal subject was music, of course, especially modern experimental music, he discussed other music of the past, present, and future. Cage's first “asyntactical” poems are the texts of Song Books which he began in 1967 and the first three and last three strophes of the irresistibly beautiful “No. 30,” which appears in M as “Song” are given in this chapter. Careful analyses of his working methods in all the arts may eventually show at what points his taste was determinative before or during his use of nonintentional procedures. (pages 210 - 233)
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- Constance Lewallen
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226044873.003.0012
[Cage, visual artworks, intaglio printing, prints, watercolor, paintings, colors]
This chapter explains that Cage devoted his maximum time to the creation of visual artworks, especially in the medium of intaglio printing. Cage's complete fidelity to chance operations is both the most widely known and the most misunderstood aspect of his methods. Numerous of Cage's prints and watercolor paintings relate directly to the fifteenth-century Zen-style garden Ryoan-ji in Kyoto, Japan. Cage outlined the plates with graphite before printing on transparent sheets of paper in the order in which they were to be printed. His open-ended strategies resulted in the sense of a moment snatched from the constant flux of nature, as if whatever is occurring on the page is continuing outside its physical borders, though he varied the forms, the colors, and the techniques from project to project. (pages 234 - 243)
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- Ray Kass
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226044873.003.0013
[exhibition, Cage's musical scores, composer, watercolor, printmaking, paintings]
This chapter provides a glimpse of an exhibition of Cage's musical scores and other works held at the Student Union Gallery at Virginia Tech, which introduced his work as a visual artist to many people who knew him only as a composer. His investigation of the watercolor medium and of the relationships between his printmaking activity and his experience with painting were represented in his paintings from 1990. He decided to create divisions in the plane of each painting, which suggested that he might attempt to relate the new paintings to the general characteristics of modern musical composition. On the last day of the workshop, Cage painted the last scroll by repeating the same painting operations with the identical rocks used for New River Rocks and Washes, but asked for much lighter versions of the colors so that they would correspond with the smoke. (pages 244 - 259)
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- Lohner Henning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226044873.003.0014
[One11, film, composition, shooting, editing, music, public performances]
This chapter lists some moments in the making of the film One11, which has been created by John Cage. This chapter focuses on the idea that because the making of the film is written out beforehand in the composition, there will not be the conventional form of shooting and editing in which to make judgments, and so forth. Cage is of the belief that the purpose of music is to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences. Till date One11 has had nearly a hundred public performances in ten countries and it has been broadcast in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria and was part of Rolywholyover. It was Cage's last complete work of a larger scale and of course, it is also considered as his artistic credo. (pages 260 - 298)
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List of Contributors

Index