cage cage

23rd June, 2008

As a side note to what I just posted, and rooted in randomness and chance, and based on the facts that I’m about to head up to Bard College for a few weeks, and that last week I had dinner with a friend of my father’s who is a biologist whose focus is starfish and who is also a musician, and, during dinner, asked me, a former performing musician, if John Cage were a part of the cannon of Western Art Music >>

When I was in high school, and already involved in free improvisations, electronic music, and noise, my music teacher performed Cage’s 4’33” in class. I didn’t know who John Cage was, and when I was informed that he as a Concert Music composer I braced for boredom. The piece made a deep impression on me.

At the conclusion of the work my music teacher, a Mrs. Levy, said that Cage’s intention was to allow a listener to focus on ambient sounds, as opposed to the organized sounds usually created in the concert hall.

To me, my experience during her performance was not one of having my ears somehow opened to ambient sounds, it was, instead, a psychological experience of not knowing what was going on, and being made keenly aware of how artificial the concert hall, and performance experience really was, and how stuffy and controlling and emblematic it was of our culture at large – regardless of idiom. The experience of his work, his great gesture, was one of disorder within the temple of orderliness and it blew my 16 year old mind.

A few months later, during Spring Break, I found his and David Tudor’s Indeterminancy at Max Hall’s on e. 7th street (anybody?) and the next day I won two tickets from a local radio station, can’t remember which, to hear Cage’s Constructions in Metal performed at a college in New Jersey. I ended up spending all of my money just getting to the town, and I ended up meeting Cage – who spoke at intermission, and he invited me to ride back to Manhattan with him after the show when he found out I didn’t have bus fare back to the city.

Anyway, I recall this now as Cage often described his work as random, and his process as involving chance operations. His work isn’t random, literally, it is an intentional disordering of staid, and invariable elements.

I still find that disorder critical and valid, but I often think that as his work was ‘accepted’ by the classical music and art world the parameters of disorder (which, to me, is the central critical aspect of his work) seemed to stabilize and revolve around the practices and forms (the invariabilities, the laws) of the institutions of Western music and art.

I feel that the discourse surrounding his work, centered on randomness and chance, mitigated his development of further and greater acts of critical disorder. The institution he sought to critique embraced him, loosely, and in so doing quelled his revolt.

Just my two cents on a hazy Monday morning.

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