John Cage
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Let’s do a match in the World Cup of Composers.

The next match for the Americans is George Gershwin versus John Cage. I think we all know George Gershwin but John Cage is another story.

Cage is a philosopher and guru in the guise of a composer. Arnold Schoenberg, who was Cage’s composition teacher for two years, said that Cage was an inventor of genius. He said this because he didn’t believe Cage to be a composer at all.

John Cage’s compositions are more like pieces of installation art. He is best known for his composition 4’33”. During this piece, the musician sits at the piano silently for four minutes and 33 seconds.

The music is the sounds in the environment itself. The audience is to listen to their surroundings. It’s very Zen. Cage was also into the I Ching and used the ancient Chinese text as a tool for creating random music.

Cage claimed that music sounded like someone talking to him whereas the sound of traffic, for instance, gave him the feeling of sound acting. He claimed that he liked the activity of sound and didn’t need it to talk to him.

This is a highly evolved approach to sound. He went on to say that he doesn’t need a sound to be anything more than itself--that it doesn’t need to have any meaning. In other words, no sound is better than any other so the sound of traffic is of equal value to the sound of Beethoven or Mozart.

I understand what he is getting at. It is an idea from the Bhagavad Gita, those who see truly see a dirt clod, a rock, and a piece of gold as equal. When it comes down to it, value is created by perspective and we can control our perspective. The dirt is more valuable for growing crops, the rock more valuable for building and gold is never corrupted, except by mercury. All are equal.

For some reason I resist this idea when it comes to sounds.

Cage struggled as an artist for decades until he came to prominence in the 1960s. His popularity rested more on his lectures than on his compositions. He was so busy as a lecturer that he produced relatively little music during this period.

Since this is a composer competition and not an enlightenment competition, Gershwin will be the one going through to the next round.

I have to admit I like this music at home while reading but I can't imagine going for it in a concert format.

World Cup of Composers

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Matingas Nov. 4, 2013 @ 3:36 p.m.

If you listened to noise and more abstract stuff, I think you noticed why he prefers traffic and natural noises than compositions. Music is an arrangement of noises and sounds, once you think you listen to it all, street noises get a different and unpredictable beat that turns out to be more pleasing than the arranged thoughts.

Sit on the passenger side in a car while driving in a highway with no music, what do you hear? A repetitive beat, but also not always in time, listen to how the concrete or pavement changes and creates rhythm. A random horn plays, screeching tires, everything is music and is unpredictable. The sense of harmony is also there. Music is everywhere.

John Cage might not have been the normal composer in a sense Westernized music, but he did much more than what Gershwin did. Gershwin was great as a composer who combined ideas, the classical sound with the evolution of jazz and it turned out to be excellent and one of the founders of American music. But comparing the two seems sort of silly, much more declaring one the winner. I agree that Gershwin's music is much more pleasing and enjoyable, but Cage's genius inspired a complete different brand of musicians and is one of the fathers of minimalism.

Cage takes the win in my view, but that's what music is, opinions. Without Cage I'm afraid there wouldn't be any Brouwer and Leo Brouwer takes the cake as the best composer this century has seen (but then again, music is about opinion).


Garrett Harris Dec. 12, 2013 @ 11:13 a.m.

I agree with what you're saying here and the philosophy major in me thinks that Cage is one of the great minds of the 20th century. I think Krishna would prefer Cage as well.


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