A man of extraordinary and seemingly limitless talents—musician, inventor, composer, poet, and even amateur mycologist—John Cage became a central figure of the avant-garde early in his life and remained at that pinnacle until his death in 1992 at the age of eighty. Award-winning biographer Kenneth Silverman gives us the first comprehensive life of this remarkable artist. Silverman begins with Cage’s childhood in interwar Los Angeles and his stay in Paris from 1930 to 1931, where immersion in the burgeoning new musical and artistic movements triggered an explosion of his creativity. Cage continued his studies in the United States with the seminal modern composer Arnold Schoenberg, and he soon began the experiments with sound and percussion instruments that would develop into his signature work with prepared piano, radio static, random noise, and silence. Cage’s unorthodox methods still influence artists in a wide range of genres and media. Silverman concurrently follows Cage’s rich personal life, from his early marriage to his lifelong personal and professional partnership with choreographer Merce Cunningham, as well as his friendships over the years with other composers, artists, philosophers, and writers.
Drawing on interviews with Cage’s contemporaries and friends and on the enormous archive of his letters and writings, and including photographs, facsimiles of musical scores, and Web links to illustrative sections of his compositions, Silverman gives us a biography of major significance: a revelatory portrait of one of the most important cultural figures of the twentieth century.
Rob Haskins Reaktion Books, 2012 Library of Congress ML410.C24H37 2012 | Dewey Decimal 780.92
American writer, composer, artist, and philosopher John Cage (1912–92) is best known for his experimental composition 4’33,” a musical score in which the performer does not play an instrument during the duration of the piece. The purpose, Cage said, was for the audience to listen to the sounds of the environment around them while the piece was performed. Groundbreaking pieces such as 4’33”, as well as Sonatas and Interludes not only established Cage as a leading figure in the postwar avant-garde movement, but also cemented the enduring controversy surrounding his work.
In this new biography, Rob Haskins explores Cage’s radical approach to art and aesthetics and his belief that everyday life and art are one and the same. Scrutinizing Cage’s emphasis on chance over intention, which rejected traditional artistic methods and caused an uproar among his peers, Haskins elucidates the ideas that lay behind these pillars of Cage’s work. Haskins also demystifies the influence of Eastern cultures, particularly Zen Buddhism, on Cage, including his use of the Chinese text I Ching as his standard composition tool in all his work after 1951. Adding to our understanding of the art, music, and ideas of the twentieth century, this book provides an engaging look at a man who continues to challenge and inspire artists worldwide.
John Cage: Composed in America
Edited by Marjorie Perloff and Charles Junkerman University of Chicago Press, 1994 Library of Congress ML410.C24J55 1994 | Dewey Decimal 780.92
When the great avant-gardist John Cage died, just short of his eightieth birthday in 1992, he was already the subject of dozens of interviews, memoirs, and discussions of his contribution to music, music theory, and performance practice. But Cage never thought of himself as only (or even primarily) a composer; he was a poet, a visual artist, a philosophical thinker, and an important cultural critic.
John Cage: Composed in America is the first book-length work to address the "other" John Cage, a revisionist treatment of the way Cage himself has composed and been "composed" in America. Cage, as these original essays testify, is a contradictory figure. A disciple of Duchamp and Schoenberg, Satie and Joyce, he created compositions that undercut some of these artists' central principles and then attributed his own compositional theories to their "tradition." An American in the Emerson-Thoreau mold, he paradoxically won his biggest audience in Europe. A freewheeling, Californian artist, Cage was committed to a severe work ethic and a firm discipline, especially the discipline of Zen Buddhism.
Following the text of Cage's lecture-poem "Overpopulation and Art," delivered at Stanford shortly before his death and published here for the first time, ten critics respond to the challenge of the complexity and contradiction exhibited in his varied work. In keeping with Cage's own interdisciplinarity, the critics approach that work from a variety of disciplines: philosophy (Daniel Herwitz, Gerald L. Bruns), biography and cultural history (Thomas S. Hines), game and chaos theory (N. Katherine Hayles), music culture (Jann Pasler), opera history (Herbert Lindenberger), literary and art criticism (Marjorie Perloff), cultural poetics (Gordana P. Crnkovic, Charles Junkerman), and poetic practice (Joan Retallack). But such labels are themselves confining: each of the essays sets up boundaries only to cross them at key points. The book thus represents, to use Cage's own phrase, a much needed "beginning with ideas."
John Cage's disdain for records was legendary. He repeatedly spoke of the ways in which recorded music was antithetical to his work. In Records Ruin the Landscape, David Grubbs argues that, following Cage, new genres in experimental and avant-garde music in the 1960s were particularly ill suited to be represented in the form of a recording. These activities include indeterminate music, long-duration minimalism, text scores, happenings, live electronic music, free jazz, and free improvisation. How could these proudly evanescent performance practices have been adequately represented on an LP?
In their day, few of these works circulated in recorded form. By contrast, contemporary listeners can encounter this music not only through a flood of LP and CD releases of archival recordings but also in even greater volume through Internet file sharing and online resources. Present-day listeners are coming to know that era's experimental music through the recorded artifacts of composers and musicians who largely disavowed recordings. In Records Ruin the Landscape, Grubbs surveys a musical landscape marked by altered listening practices.
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.