Book Review John Cage

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lennygoran
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Book Review John Cage

Post by lennygoran » Wed Jul 20, 2016 7:40 pm

Cage is not someone whose music I know anything about. As for his operas: "Europeras is a series of five operas by the composer John Cage. Cage explained the punning title thus: "For two hundred years the Europeans have been sending us their operas. Now I'm sending them back." Regards, Len




Review: John Cage’s Historical Niche, a Legacy in Letters

Books of The Times

By ALASTAIR MACAULAY JULY 20, 2016


While the radical composer John Cage (1912-92) was alive, it seemed easier to dismiss him as an irritating crackpot than it does now. In death, Cage has only grown. His paintings, his philosophy, his anarchism are better known; it’s far easier to find recordings of his music; he’s much watched on YouTube. We can now see — witness his recurrent appearances in Alex Ross’s superb history “The Rest Is Noise” (2007) — that no study of 20th-century music is complete without Cage. He’s most famous for his all-silent three-part 1952 composition “4’33” (a reference to its duration in minutes and seconds): An end to conventional music, it became a beginning for Cage, opening up the possibilities of sound and noise.

Now “The Selected Letters of John Cage,” edited by Laura Kuhn, director of the John Cage Trust, arrives. Catching most of his many facets, the letters, spanning 1930 to mid-1992, show why Cage remains, for many, a guru. They also show, endearingly, that he approached life as its enthusiastic student. The voice that emerges is lucid and passionate, both modest and authoritative.

In 1980 Cage replies to the composer and editor R. I. P. Hayman, who had asked him, “Is politics to society what music is to sound?” The question, Cage remarks, is “a little too mathematical,” but he goes on to answer, “yes if music is thought of as a body of laws to protect musical sounds from noises, as government protects rich from poor.”

This is just one of Cage’s many dazzling connections of music and art to life and politics. In the same letter, he goes on:

“Why do we do it? … Two good reasons: 1) To quiet and sober the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences (and since electronics is the extension of the central nervous system — McLuhan — revolution is therefore feasible); 2) to imitate nature in her manner of operation.”

These views, expressed with habitual intelligence but familiar to all acquainted with Cage’s dictums, link Marshall McLuhan — the influential theorist of how new media transform human existence — to lessons Cage learned from Asian philosophy. All his chief passions are here in the letters: Pierre Boulez, Zen Buddhism, cooking, Merce Cunningham, Marcel Duchamp, Buckminster Fuller, Jasper Johns, McLuhan, Robert Rauschenberg, mushrooms, Erik Satie, Mark Tobey. Each would open Cage’s mind to new possibilities. Though he was most excited by male thinkers, women — the writer M. C. Richards, the composer Pauline Oliveros, the biographer Ornella Volta, the dancer Carolyn Brown — all receive his eager admiration here.

Here, too, are rare glimpses into his long and fruitful partnership with Cunningham. (Parts of Cage’s first missives to Cunningham are reproduced as illustrations.) When the two men began an affair, in New York in 1943, Cage was married and had had relationships with people of both sexes; he had been friends with Cunningham since 1938 when Cage was Cunningham’s teacher in Seattle. (These letters end speculation that they had become a couple before they worked together in New York.) The love letters Cage wrote to Cunningham in 1943-44 sound notes to be found nowhere else in his writing. They have the quality of epiphany:
Photo
Credit Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times

“Please don’t let intellectual art discussions intimidate you. They are only talking about art or loving it or God knows what, but you are it. You’re a visitation and anyone who has a chance to be near you is damned fortunate. It’s like the stories of people talking about God or Christ + he is Incognito among them.”

Still, if you want to believe that Cage was a crackpot, he furnishes abundant evidence to help you. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, he writes often of using plants as instruments. For example, this 1976 letter:

“‘Branches’ uses amplified cacti + other plant materials + ‘Inlets’ uses amplified conch shells, the shells filled with water + then tipped to produce gurgles, together with a recording of fire and a conch blown once (using circular breathing) for at least 2 minutes.”

“Inlets” (1977), though, was far from nonsense. Many remember it as the score for Cunningham’s dance of the same title, with designs by the artist Morris Graves; it spirited us to a zone of nature untroubled by man, as did the dance that accompanied it.


According to Bonnie Bird, who had taken Cage and Cunningham into each other’s orbits in Seattle (they met Graves soon after), the three artists were revisiting in “Inlets” the areas of Puget Sound they had known in that first year of their acquaintance. Today the spell of Cage’s hushed score is still present on a live 1983 recording included in the 10-CD boxed set “Music for Merce” (New World Records, 2010).

Anybody who witnessed “Inlets” could believe Ms. Bird’s words. Yet nothing Cage and Cunningham said supported this. Cage mentions “Inlets” and its conches in several letters. Though this wasn’t the only score of his that made listeners wonder whether he entertained ideas of representation, mimesis, evocation in his work, he — like Cunningham — kept quiet about these matters. His letters often address methodology and aesthetics; they leave matters of interpretation to the listener. Communicating specific meanings? After his early years, that would be a form of authoritarianism he rejected.


This book is an introduction to Cagean aesthetics to equal “Silence,” his 1961 collection of writings. In 1939, when he had recently begun a percussion orchestra (Cunningham played in it), he famously wrote, “Percussion music is revolution.” But there’s a 1982 letter, written when his music had changed completely, in which he says, “I remain a percussion composer whether I write for percussion instruments or not.” For him the link remains between sound and world: “New music, new society.”

Since Cage introduced elements of anarchy into music, it’s impressive how much he cared for high quality of performance. And no thread in these letters shines brighter than that of his erudite, profound devotion to the music of Satie. He already sounds an expert in 1948, but his researches continue, and his ardor deepens into the 1980s. He’s also rapturous in recalling his mid-1930s studies with the modernist composer Arnold Schoenberg:

“He sent us all to the blackboard to solve a problem: This was a largish class at U.C.L.A. He said: When you have a solution, turn around, and I’ll have a look at it. I turned around after a while. He said: Now solve it again. Etc. Finally I replied: There aren’t any more solutions. He said: What is the principle underlying all of the solutions? For me he had always been a god; at that moment he was God.”

Cage writes letters to famous names — Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Willem de Kooning, Yoko Ono — but he’s often finest when writing to complete strangers. Sometimes he’s barbed, as with the Anglican priest who claims to understand Cage’s writings but cannot, despite trying, appreciate his music; Cage sets him the exercise of listening “to at least two hours of Bruckner twice a day, three times on every seventh day, etc., until you discover that it is not sublime at all, but very boring.” More often, Cage is generous. One long letter, a reply to the composer Katherine Aune, apparently quite unknown to him, includes these luminous sentences:

“The notion that every sound is worthy of attention is, you might say, a Buddhist notion. Every being, whether sentient or nonsentient, is the Buddha, and is therefore at the center of the universe. … I do not write something that’s in my head. In fact, I don’t hear anything until it is audible outside my head. In this way I can sometimes write something that hasn’t been heard before.”

In words, as in music, Cage still opens our ears and minds.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/21/books ... views&_r=0

some guy
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Re: Book Review John Cage

Post by some guy » Thu Jul 21, 2016 7:53 am

Very nice review. Almost completely empty of silliness, which is very refreshing.
"The public has got to stay in touch with the music of its time . . . for otherwise people will gradually come to mistrust music claimed to be the best."
--Viennese critic (1843)

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.
--Henry Miller

lennygoran
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Re: Book Review John Cage

Post by lennygoran » Thu Jul 21, 2016 8:51 am

some guy wrote:Very nice review. Almost completely empty of silliness, which is very refreshing.
I can see Cage is going to be a tough not for me to crack-I am not optimistic--this morning I listened twice to Cage's Cheap Imitations-I figured I would try a work considered more conventional:

"Cheap Imitation became something of a departure for Cage, because it was his first "proper" composition, in the old sense of the word, since 1962.[7] Furthermore, the open declaration of Cage's own feelings (about Satie's work) was something very unusual for his work, which was, since the late 1940s, almost entirely impersonal. Cage himself was well aware of the contradiction between the rest of his works and Cheap Imitation:

In the rest of my work, I'm in harmony with myself [...] But Cheap Imitation clearly takes me away from all that. So if my ideas sink into confusion, I owe that confusion to love. [...] Obviously, Cheap Imitation lies outside of what may seem necessary in my work in general, and that's disturbing. I’m the first to be disturbed by it.[8]"

Actually I think I would even prefer his 4'33" with no music to this Cheap Imitation--did absolutely nothing for me! Regards, Len :(



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Re: Book Review John Cage

Post by some guy » Thu Jul 21, 2016 5:18 pm

Approaching things according to what you already understand may seem like a good idea, at first. But is it?

If you try to understand Cage by how well he does for you what oh say Puccini does for you, or Wagner, or Bellini, then you're going to be continually disappointed. Cage is never going to do for you what Tchaikovsky does for you. He's never going to do for you even what Satie does for you. He's Cage. He does for you what Cage does for people.

Even if he were still alive, he'd not change anything that he believed in in order to woo Lenny Goran into being a fan of his. That's not how the implied artistic contract works, much as musical Luddites want it to be so.

There's only one person in this equation who can change, and that's Lenny Goran.
"The public has got to stay in touch with the music of its time . . . for otherwise people will gradually come to mistrust music claimed to be the best."
--Viennese critic (1843)

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.
--Henry Miller

lennygoran
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Re: Book Review John Cage

Post by lennygoran » Thu Jul 21, 2016 6:32 pm

some guy wrote: He's Cage. He does for you what Cage does for people...There's only one person in this equation who can change, and that's Lenny Goran.
Well could you explain what he could possibly do for me-what change could I make-I listened to one of his works and it just did nothing for me-what must I do? Regards, Len :(

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Re: Book Review John Cage

Post by some guy » Fri Jul 22, 2016 3:34 am

Well, it's easy to say this, but probably difficult to actually do, but first you have to change your attitude.

When that's done, then you are free to change how you listen. Which is what will enable you to "get" something out of Cheap Imitations.

Specifics? Well, you obviously think that Cage is supposed to do something for you. And "do something for you" means, as far as I can see, that his music has to satisfy your expectations for what music should do.

Well, we all have our tastes, it's true, but you can see how tastes can interfer with our ability to have new and unprecedented experiences. There will always be things that each of us prefers, and things that we don't. But that's all us. Nothing to do with Cage or Brahms or Rubbra or Telemann or any of numerous composers that any one of us can report as liking--or disliking. Listening sympathetically and with understanding and pleasure to things outside our tastes entails being willing to dispense with our particular desires and expectations.

If you're happy with your tastes as they are today (tastes being things that in the past were being developed), then OK. If you want to continue to develop them today and into the future, then you're going to have to be open to the possibility that your tastes today are not the be all and end all.
"The public has got to stay in touch with the music of its time . . . for otherwise people will gradually come to mistrust music claimed to be the best."
--Viennese critic (1843)

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.
--Henry Miller

lennygoran
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Re: Book Review John Cage

Post by lennygoran » Fri Jul 22, 2016 5:43 am

some guy wrote:There will always be things that each of us prefers, and things that we don't. But that's all us. Nothing to do with Cage or Brahms or Rubbra or Telemann or any of numerous composers that any one of us can report as liking--or disliking. Listening sympathetically and with understanding and pleasure to things outside our tastes entails being willing to dispense with our particular desires and expectations.
Thanks but is there any other piece of music he wrote you might recommend? I will try Cheap Imitation again sometime-maybe something will suddenly connect for me. If not there is sure much else out there for me to enjoy! Regards, Len

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Re: Book Review John Cage

Post by John F » Fri Jul 22, 2016 6:14 am

You might not dislike some of his pieces for prepared piano. There's not much to them - literally, the "sonata" #2 is little more than 2 minutes - but at least they're kind of pretty.
John Francis

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Re: Book Review John Cage

Post by lennygoran » Fri Jul 22, 2016 6:28 am

John F wrote:You might not dislike some of his pieces for prepared piano. There's not much to them - literally, the "sonata" #2 is little more than 2 minutes - but at least they're kind of pretty.
Thanks, something I could visualize doing a cha cha or a samba to out on the dance floor! Regards, Len :lol:

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Re: Book Review John Cage

Post by some guy » Fri Jul 22, 2016 9:49 am

lennygoran wrote: Thanks but is there any other piece of music he wrote you might recommend? I will try Cheap Imitation again sometime-maybe something will suddenly connect for me. If not there is sure much else out there for me to enjoy! Regards, Len
I could recommend several. All of it is out there for you to enjoy. But you seem to be asking me to recommend, as John just did, some pieces that will not require you to change.

But my whole drift was to suggest that since Cage is dead and therefore not likely to be changing anything about how he wrote music, there is only one other possibllity for changing. You're resisting that idea, not surprisingly. None of us are remarkable for our ability to welcome change. Why, I'm looking at a major upheaval in my own life coming up in the 31st of August, and me with no idea how to deal with that. If it's the only option.... Of course, there's always the "don't listen to any Cage at all, ever" option. So two options. Or the listen to some Cage if it floats into your ken. Three options.

At least. Only if you're determined for some reason to like some Cage pieces is the first option the only one. Why are you determined to do so?
"The public has got to stay in touch with the music of its time . . . for otherwise people will gradually come to mistrust music claimed to be the best."
--Viennese critic (1843)

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.
--Henry Miller

lennygoran
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Re: Book Review John Cage

Post by lennygoran » Fri Jul 22, 2016 11:31 am

some guy wrote:Only if you're determined for some reason to like some Cage pieces is the first option the only one. Why are you determined to do so?
I don't think determined is the right word for me-I'm working with the only tools I think I have-my ears and my experience listening to music. I don't read music, I don't play any musical instruments-for me I listen and I either like it or I don't get it--I can't look at a score and say this is beautifully put together. BTW reading the wiki on Cage I am fascinated by his life story-still the music just evades me right now. Regards, Len

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Re: Book Review John Cage

Post by jbuck919 » Fri Jul 22, 2016 1:45 pm

John Cage is as complete a phony as there ever was in music, if you can call what he did music in the first place. His partner the dancer Merce Cunningham is quite another matter. He let John do the cooking.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Book Review John Cage

Post by jserraglio » Fri Jul 22, 2016 2:05 pm

jbuck919 wrote:John Cage is as complete a phony as there ever was in music, if you can call what he did music in the first place. His partner the dancer Merce Cunningham is quite another matter. He let John do the cooking.
It's music. But I wouldn't vouch for his cooking.

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Re: Book Review John Cage

Post by John F » Fri Jul 22, 2016 2:51 pm

lennygoran wrote:Reading the wiki on Cage I am fascinated by his life story-still the music just evades me right now. Regards, Len
There's one piece by Cage that I would very much like to have seen/heard, or maybe it's several pieces: "Europera." The Wikipedia article describes it:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europeras

Seems like it should be fun.
John Francis

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Re: Book Review John Cage

Post by jserraglio » Fri Jul 22, 2016 3:10 pm

Re: Europeras
As I recall most or all of them are on YT. Haven't listened.

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Re: Book Review John Cage

Post by lennygoran » Fri Jul 22, 2016 4:45 pm

John F wrote:
Seems like it should be fun.
Yes it might very well be. Regards, Len

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