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Artist Presentation - John Cage

John Cage (1912-1992) was an American composer, philosopher, artist, writer, and printmaker. He is most known for adapting musical instruments (mostly piano) to create different sound textures. He did this by adding things to the piano (paper on the strings, wooden blocks under the strings, etc.) or removing things (taking out strings, removing hammers, etc.)

Cage was tutored by another famous composer, Arnold Schoenberg. Schoenberg is known for writing expressionistic classical music, such as the tone poem "Verklaerte Nacht". Cage had a long teaching career, at schools such as the Cornish School of the Arts, Chicago School of Design, and Black Mountain College.

For much of his life when he wasn't teaching, he lived in New York City.

Cage's greatest project (in my opinion) was his pioneering of 'chance music', which is exactly what it sounds like. He created scores that left a large amount of what would be performed up to the discretion of the performer. His piece, 4'33" is a great example of this. He also wrote several books on the subject, including "Silence" (1961) and "A Year From Monday" (1968).

Cage's most famous piece is 4'33". At first glance, it's four and half minutes of nothing. However, it's really not nothing...the audience members are the performers. This piece challenges our notions of what art, music, and silence really are.

Another piece of his, Sonata X for prepared piano, can be seen at:


A similar artist is Edgard Varese (1883-1965). Varese is commonly considered to be the "father of electronic music".

Varese's most famous piece, Poeme Electronique, can be seen at:


I'm attracted to the work of John Cage because I find his ideas concerning what music and silence really are very intriguing. I also love the idea that the audience members become performers of a piece, whether they want to or not.