Born: September 5, 1912 in Los Angeles, California
Died: August 12, 1992
Composer, conductor, performer, painter, philosopher, poet, and a leading mushroom expert.
Began by studying piano. Traveled to Paris to study piano and architecture.
Had two years of college but dropped out.
“I was shocked at college to see one hundred of my classmates in the library all reading copies of the same book. Instead of doing as they did, I went into the stacks and read the first book written by an author whose name began with Z. I received the highest grade in the class. That convinced me that the institution was not being run correctly. I left.”
Began composing in the 1930s. Composition teachers included Richard Buhlig, Henry Cowell, Adolph Weiss, and finally Arnold Schoenberg.
“I could not accept the academic idea that the purpose of music was communication, because I noticed that when I conscientiously wrote something sad, people and critics were often apt to laugh” Instead, he felt “the purpose of music is to sober and quite the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences…the responsibility to the artist is to imitate nature in her manner of operation.
Leaned from his father that when someone says that you can’t do something, they have just shown you what to do.
Whatever happens is okay, but he prefers laughter to tears.
Music = the organization of sound.
“Is a truck passing by music? Which is more musical, a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school?”
Apprenticeship Period (1932-1938)
Romantic Period (1938-1950)
Music for Aquatic Ballet
Imaginary Landscape No. 1
Living Room Music
Chance and Indeterminacy (1951-1969)
Words and Environments (1970-1987)
But What About the Noise of Crumpling Paper…
Number Period (1987-1992)
Throughout his life, Cage worked with and was influenced by several other arts outside of the field of music, including modern dancer, Merce Cunningham and the painter, Rouschenberg.
Cage plotted the next course of percussion ensemble music that began with Varese’s Ionization.
Because Cage hated harmony, he started to work with rhythm instead. In 1936 he began working with a filmmaker, Oskar Fischinger, who make him interested in all form of noise. He said, “everything in the world has its own spirit which can be released by setting it into vibration.” He began experiencing with sounds obtainable from hitting or rubbing anything that he could fine. From 1937-1939 he toured playing his music with a percussion ensemble. During this time, he didn’t write for specific instruments because he didn’t know what he would be able to find and/or rent.
“Percussion music is a contemporary transition from keyboard-influenced music to the all-sound music of the future. Any sound is acceptable to the composer of percussion music.”
Percussion is completely open. It is not even open-ended. It has no end. It is not like the strings, the winds, the brass (I am thinking of the other sections of the orchestra), thought when they fly the coop of harmony it can tech them a thing or two. If you are not hearing music, percussion is exemplified by the very next sound you actually hear wherever you are, in or out of doors of city. Planet? The strings, the winds, the brass know more about music than they do about sound. To study noise they must go to the school of percussion. There they will discover silence, a way to change one’s mind; and aspects of time that have not yet been put into practice.”
“Two percussion instruments of the same kind are not more alike than two people who happen to have the same name.”
He had a special fondness for the water gong and it was inserted into many of his pieces.
Love of percussion brought about the prepared piano. The piano was transformed into a percussion orchestra.
Collaborated with Lou Harrison on many of his percussion projects, including Double Music. Harrison’s compositions are known for their use of Asian influenced instruments.
Cage was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 1982.
Living Room Music (1940)
1. To Begin
Imaginary Landscape No. 2 (1942)
1. 5 tin cans, conch shell
2. 5 tin cans
3. 5 tin cans
4. ratchet, bass drum, buzzer, water gong, metal wastebasket
5. coil of wire, buzzer, lion’s roar
Double Music (1941)
1. 6 graduated water buffalo bells, 6 graduated muted brake drums,
2. 2 sistra, 6 graduated sleigh bells, 6 brake drums, thunder sheet
3. 3 graduated Japanese temple gongs, tam tam, 6 graduated cowbells
4. 6 muted Chinese gongs, tam tam, water gong
Amores for Prepared Piano and Percussion (1943)
1. Solo for Prepared Piano
2. Trio (9 tom-toms, pod rattle)
3. Trio (7 woodblocks, not Chinese)
4. Solo for Prepared Piano
27’ 10.554 For a Percussionist
First Construction (in Metal) for Prepared Piano and Percussion
She is Asleep
Third Construction, for Percussion Quartet
Useful Web Sites about John Cage
Quotes from John Cage
Chronology of his music
Discography of his music
Cage, John. A Year From Monday. Wesleyan University Press. Middletown, Connecticut. 1963.
Ewen, David. The World of Twentieth Century Music. Prentice-Hall, Inc. London. 1968. Pgs. 135-140.
Gena, Peter and Brent, Jonathan. A John Cage Reader. C. F. Peters Corporation. New York. 1982. Pgs. 184-207.
Perlogg, Marjorie and Junkermann, Charles. John Cage: Composed in America. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago. 1994.
Whittall, Arnold. The Music of John Cage. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. 1993.
Miller, Allan. John Cage: I Have Nothing to Say and I am Saying It. RM Arts. The Music Project for Television, Inc. And American Masters. 1990. VHS Recording.
Quatuor Helios. John Cage: Works for Percussion. WERGO Schallplatten GmbH. Mainz, Germany. 1991.
A Chance Operation: The John Cage Tribute. KOCK International. New York. 1993.