MCTC Sound Arts
JOHN CAGE AND INDETERMINACY
First Construction in Metal (1939)
A trained musician– studied composition with Henry Cowell and Arnold Schoenberg
Huge number of works in many different media, including electronic music
Important collaborator in dance, film, visual art, performance, video
Respected authority on eastern philosophy, macrobiotic cooking, wild mushroom collecting
- Anti-romantic approach: Uninterested in the singularity of the 'artiste' or emotion-driven work
- Suppression of the artist's ego & preferences
- Awareness & openness of all sounds in an environment as belonging
- Incorporates Buddhist thought & philosophy
- A sense of 'play' in his work
Sound & Silence
In the 1950s, Cage had the opportunity to be inside an anechoic chamber. This is very specialized room used for scientific study that has no reflections and is completely soundproof from outside noise. Thus, they are common referred to as the 'quietest' rooms on Earth. (If you ever get the chance to visit one, do it! It is like no other experience.)
Cage entered the room and expected absolute silence, but still heard two distinct sounds: A high-pitched whine, and a low rumble. He asked why, if the room was supposed to be silent, he was still hearing these sounds. The engineer replied that the high-pitched whine was the sound of his nervous system, and the low rumble was the sound of his blood!
It was at this point that he discovered there was no true silence in the world.
Tools and Techniques
Use of chance operations to generate randomness:
Using a computer to generate random numbers
Other non-musical sources of decision-making
Use of the I Ching ("Book of Changes"), an ancient Chinese book that presents a sort of system of philosophy and study of the universe. It introduces symbols and how they can be used.
Electronics were another set of tools that could be used to accomplish the goal of creating data using chance operations.
Part of the musical 'score' for Fontana Mix: Sheets of clear plastic lines and dots are overlaid on each other. The patterns they make are used to determine pitch, time, and volume. Each sheet is separate, so they can be re-arranged differently for every performance
Cage's piece Water Walk was featured on the game show I've Got a Secret (back when TV was live and took risks!).
Cage and Technology
Tape & Film
allowed use of any sound/image outside their original context, and could be edited freely.
made familiar sounds unrecognizable, and made unfamiliar ones audible.
provided a huge range unpredictable sounds.
could generate true random numbers without involvement of the artist.
Technology provided a layer of 'insulation' to disconnect the artist's preferences from the sonic result.
- Read about it with the link above.
- Listen to it on the D2L topic page.
- View an excerpt of the 200+ page score on the next slide. The 'score' is editing instructions (created with chance operations), without knowing what the recordings are.
This film is crucial to beginning to understand Cage– View it at least once.
Elements of Composition
What is to be accomplished? What should it sound like?
What is the general musical system and sonic raw material?
What technologies are best to shape the materials into the goal?
How will the tools be used? What specific operations?
|J.S. Bach||Multiple parts creating a whole||Tonal music, Church hymns||Western instruments||Rules of counterpoint|
|Nancarrow||Advanced rhythm & tempo exploration||Western scales, Jazz||Player piano||Mathematical formulas and ratios|
|Cage||Music free of composer's decisions||Any sound||Tape, Radios,
|Random number generation|
John Cage & Indeterminacy