John Cage Performing One Of His Compositions

Posted by AJ Harbison at 1:13 am

Although he doesn’t post much anymore, in the past I’ve enjoyed reading Greg Wilbur’s blog. Wilbur is the director of music for a PCA church in Tennessee, and his blog most often deals with topics regarding music, worship and the church. He recently posted this video of John Cage performing one of his compositions on an old TV show. John Cage was a controversial American composer of the 20th century (he died in 1992) who experimented conceptually with the line between music, noise and silence. His most famous piece is probably 4’33″, which consists of four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence–or, as Cage understood it, of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear for the duration of the piece. He was also famous for the invention of the “prepared piano,” in which objects such as screws, coins and paper were placed in the strings of the piano, altering its sound. The video is nine and a half minutes long, but intriguing, to say the least.

Wilbur’s comment on the video: “This is long, but the absurdity of what is meant as ‘music’ is worth watching.”

I commented on his post and said this: “At least people back then had the good sense to laugh at him. It’s all too easy to imagine a concert hall of musicians and composers from academia sitting and listening quietly today. I take it as a sign of my musical sanity that I laughed as well.”

His response: “I agree. Even the host’s need to express that this was ‘serious’ music but that people would laugh is a far better indicator of musical judgment than ivory tower academicians. It’s an interesting thing to see how someone’s artistic philosophy actually serves to destroy that which they say they value. In this case, broad theories of sound as music replaces that which makes music music.”

It certainly brings up some intriguing questions. What makes music music? What is the line between music and noise? Does that line remain constant through different times and different cultures?

What do you think? Leave a comment and join the discussion!



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    pc on 07.25.2008

    Thank-you for this.

    I’m struck by the sincerity of Mr Moore and Mr Cage and by the politeness and good humor with which the performance was received. Such was life in a civilized and tolerant nation.


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    Dj on 07.29.2008

    francis schaeffer has some pretty harsh things to say about Mr. Cage too.

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    Mike Morabito on 08.06.2008

    Great post, AJ.

    I, of course, would argue for the perspective that music, like beauty can and should be found where ever it can.

    I like to think about how a painted piece of a mountain or ocean, for example, is no more prettier than the actual mountain or ocean but that by experiencing those pieces of art I might come to enjoy the Actual much more because I start to look at either the mountain or ocean as artwork itself. Or maybe even start to consider everything as an integrated whole which is art.

    Similarly, I think was this composer is doing is expressing in an indirect way that music is all around us and shouldn’t be missed. Which I think is very cool (and maybe expresses the essence of this blog, which supports listening to sounds wherever they are found – see the bathroom fan post and the woman’s shoes post).

    Also I think that as soon as one person says to another person that your art (or music) in this case isn’t art is when the whole system caves in on itself. Like truth, art and beauty must in some way be beyond the judgments of individuals or even consensus.

    I believe that people can form likes and dislikes of different art per say, however, art needs to be open an free for it remain art.

    Furthermore, it has been argued that the only art that is truly art is that which has challenged the status quo and I think there can be a lot said about this perspective. Can we really call something art which is really a just a regimented reproduction of art that already exists with very little variation? I’m not so sure.

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