a thoughtful discussion about music


John Cage: Chance Sounds

John Cage was a revolutionary man, an experimental "composer" and the artist that altered the world of music and the relationship between (what we call) music and our lives. Cage is known best from his 1952 composition, 4'33", a musical performance, always lasting exactly 4 min. and 33 seconds, which consists of musicians pursed in position to play the first note on their instruments, which never comes.

He was also known as a philosopher, poet, music theorist, artist, printmaker, amateur mycologist and mushroom collector. He challenged and questioned the idea of music as a form of self expression and of sounds being anything more than just that, reverberations affecting our ears and interpreted by our brains. He talked about the sounds not created with force or forethought and the beauty within "silence".

Often the compositions that he created through chance operations take on a very beautiful nature. I find that the randomization of sounds creates a landscape for our ears that is unusual and maybe even uncomfortable, but compelling and thoughtful. My brain at times feels more involved in the processing of the music and at other times is able to let go of structure completely and feel almost complete bliss.

While I do not 100% agree with everything that Cage felt music should be, I see his impact on our culture and the creation process of musicians as incredibly significant. He was a true genius; taking an entire discipline and turning it on its head.

Finally I will leave you with the composition, Dream--written to accompany a Merce Cunningham dance--which I find serene and elegant, and also a closing quote for contemplation;

"There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot."

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