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.