Monday, 13 July 2015

John Cage - Controversial as Ever

"Silence" by John Cage - this is the book cover

As a young music student decades ago, John Cage's writings and compositions were required course materials. Agree or disagree, John Cage constantly and continuously confronted and challenged every sense of the word music as well as every perceived parameter of music, sound and silence as art in any form or absence of form.

Cage stated in one of his writings, "Formerly silence was the time lapse between sounds, useful to a variety of ends."

In disagreement I challenge the implication of 'formerly' in that its meaning implies 'no longer' and this compels me to question, "Has silence changed any since the beginning of time?"

Or has silence changed in any manner since John Cage has attempted to redefine silence in music?

Silence remains a time lapse between sounds regardless of what sounds silence is a lapse between. 
I thought his ideas mostly nonsense and his compositions noise, until...

John Cage's work 4'33" was, in his mind his most important work. Sad and brilliant are my only conclusions. Four minutes and thirty-three seconds of a musician or musicians doing nothing is no more a musical composition than arguing that not reading a blank manuscript is a literary work of art.

Any fool can sit or stand in silence upon a stage or podium.

Surprisingly, the Cage composition in question is still performed as the attached YouTube link reveals.

Is the greater fool the audience who waits expectantly?

Perhaps this is the irony...

Phineas Taylor "P. T." Barnum was an American showman and businessman remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes... erroneously credited with coining the phrase "There's a sucker born every minute" (Wikipedia)

My opinion of John Cage's musical output has not changed but as I re-read his writings, I can better understand his ideas in a new light.

The Oddblock Station Agent