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John Cage and Morton Feldman Shooting the Breeze

Years  ago  in  Chicago      I  was  asked  to  accompany
two  dancers  who  were  providing  entertainment  at
a  business  women’s  dance  party  given  in  a  hall
of  the  YWCA.                  After  the  entertainment,
the  juke  box  was  turned  on      so  everybody
could  dance:                there  was  no  orchestra
(they  were  saving  money).                  However,
the  goings-on  became  very  expensive.
One  of  the  arms  in  the  juke  box       moved  a
selected  record  on  to  the  turntable.                  The
playing  arm  moved  to  an  extraordinarily  elevated
position.                   After  a  slight  pause       it
came  down  rapidly  and  heavily  on  the  record,
smashing  it.                   Another  arm  came  into
the  situation  and  removed  the  debris.
The  first  arm  moved  another  selected  record  on
to  the  turntable.                    The  playing  arm
moved  up  again,               paused,               came  down
quickly,               smashing  the  record.
The  debris  was  removed  by  the  third  arm.
And  so  on.                                         And
meanwhile  all  the  flashing  colored  lights
associated  with  juke  boxes  worked  perfectly,
making  the  whole  scene                      glamorous.

— John Cage, Indeterminacy

 

I have always admired John Cage as a man who understood that music doesn’t exist within boundaries that differentiate it from other art forms and life experiences. The above anecdote, and another one about how Christian Wolff declared that outside sounds, like traffic and boat horns, were “…in no sense an interruption of those of the music”, inspired me to regard music as merely a facet of the complete experience of any given moment.

Cage not only reframed musical experiences, but he delivered lectures as performances. The above quote is printed as he arranged — indicating a specific rhythm in which the speech must be delivered. The following conversation Cage holds with Morton Feldman, though extemporaneous, even seems to possess a sense of musicality.

I find it refreshing to divert my attention from performance practice and theory, the direct study of music, to ideas that might indirectly inspire me as a musician. Here, Cage and Feldman discuss more broad philosophical concepts involving music and other things. Please enjoy.

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