Author Topic: John Cage (1912-92)  (Read 74344 times)

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karlhenning

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #120 on: June 30, 2011, 03:46:27 AM »
Thanks for the kind words, Luke and Bruce. From my part, I think Cage was in need of some love in this forum, lest any newcomer face the barrage of 'advice' coming from certain quarters and be forever turned off from a very worthwhile and inspiring corpus of music and ideas.

QFT

karlhenning

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #121 on: June 30, 2011, 03:47:42 AM »
Not only that Luke - I mock and have total disdain for those who do.

Although it is hardly the first point you have missed . . . your mockery and disdain don't mean much.

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #122 on: June 30, 2011, 07:12:13 AM »
Somehow I thought I had posted something on this, but apparently not, so...

One of my fondest concert experiences was seeing Cage's Europeras I and II in 1988, when PepsiCo (believe it or not) was sponsoring an annual summer festival of contemporary music and theater at SUNY Purchase. A group of us went up for the evening, and had our minds pretty well blown. The singers come prepared with an assortment of arias from the standard opera repertory, and there are sets, backdrops, and other props ready to be deployed - all randomly determined by a computer. Even the cast's entrances and exits are left to chance. It was an experience unlike any I've ever had.

Here is an excerpt from John Rockwell's New York Times review:

''Europera 1'' is a 90-minute first act and ''2'' a 45-minute second act; a large gray radio-controlled blimp flies out over the audience in the second act with ''Europera 3'' and ''Europera 4'' emblazoned on each side. The action consists of a steady, overlapping collage of public-domain operatic fragments. Singers plod on, dressed in some usually outlandish traditional costume, and sing an aria that may or may not be related to the costume or their vocal type. They do this a cappella (itself a sometimes considerable trick), while other arias are being sung and the brass-and-wind-dominated pit band and onstage instrumentalists are tootling away at their own operatic fragments and occasional bursts of amplified noise crash in upon the scene.

In the meantime, leotard-clad ballet dancers prance through the proceedings, and large black-and-white panels depicting dead composers and singers and birds and animals and stage sets, often oddly cropped, descend and ascend.

There are gags and jokes throughout (for instance: a large man in full armor creating scads of bubbles by dipping a red-and-white candy-striped pole and net into a soapy mixture, then slashing at them in rage). But there is no plot (in the program Mr. Cage offers 12 alternative plots, which read like Robert Benchley opera parodies), no tension, no climax. ''Europera 2'' is more darkly lighted than ''1,'' with a seemingly denser concentration of music and images, and the large illustrations are lowered sideways toward the end.


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karlhenning

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #123 on: June 30, 2011, 07:59:52 AM »
more darkly lighted's an ill phrase. It's a vile phrase . . . .

eyeresist

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #124 on: June 30, 2011, 04:24:54 PM »
more darkly lighted's an ill phrase. It's a vile phrase . . . .

"Lighted" in itself is a bad word.

Apart from 4'33", my only acquaintance with Cage's work is his Chesspiece film. I don't remember where the hell I saw it. Surely it couldn't have been my crappy high school? Anyway, he used the I Ching (I think) to determine how to film and edit a chess match. I thought the process was silly (I still do; I just react against complete arbitrariness as a method), but the result was actually quite effective. It could be described as "filmic cubism". I think the "objective" method of using a randomisation process was more effective than the self-conscious jump-cutting of Goddard.
 

Offline petrarch

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #125 on: June 30, 2011, 05:11:34 PM »
I just react against complete arbitrariness as a method

How complete is 'complete'? This is a slippery slope, as one could ask what is not ultimately arbitrary in composing music?
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eyeresist

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #126 on: June 30, 2011, 05:28:18 PM »
How complete is 'complete'? This is a slippery slope, as one could ask what is not ultimately arbitrary in composing music?

I mean arbitrariness as opposed to conscious choice. Conventional music theory limits choices, but the choices are still there to be made. Cage deliberately abnegates choice; once the system is in place, he has no input into the final result (at least in the case of Chesspiece). This is a technique I instinctually reject - though as I said it doesn't necessarily mean I reject the result.

I do feel that an artwork should have the stamp of a personality on it. This is something Cage has deliberately rejected; the characteristic of his most "conceptual" work is that the influence of personality (or what we would call "style") is removed. In this sense, what the critics say is true: anyone could do it, and if they did the difference would only be discernable by the material used.
 

Offline Luke

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #127 on: June 30, 2011, 08:35:38 PM »
all that non-intentionalist crap, huh? pffff

think NOTHING
wait until it is absolutely still within you
when you have attained this
begin to play

as soon as you start to think, stop
and try to retain
the state of NON-THINKING
then continue playing


eyeresist

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #128 on: June 30, 2011, 08:53:08 PM »

I'd say non-thinking is impossible. And if you truly had no thoughts, why would you play? I dunno, bloody hippies.... *grumble*

Offline petrarch

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #129 on: June 30, 2011, 11:20:45 PM »
all that non-intentionalist crap, huh? pffff

think NOTHING
wait until it is absolutely still within you
when you have attained this
begin to play

as soon as you start to think, stop
and try to retain
the state of NON-THINKING
then continue playing

:D

I'm sure the above will be duly rationalized--as an experiment that had to be done and quickly abandoned. And there are all other sorts of unreleased stuff that is more similar to Cage's aesthetics than he would ever admit.
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Offline petrarch

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #130 on: June 30, 2011, 11:24:47 PM »
I do feel that an artwork should have the stamp of a personality on it. This is something Cage has deliberately rejected; the characteristic of his most "conceptual" work is that the influence of personality (or what we would call "style") is removed. In this sense, what the critics say is true: anyone could do it, and if they did the difference would only be discernable by the material used.

This is illusory. The style is there, if only in the rules and systems created; even the system of "non-systems". It is just a question of how far removed you want to go. It's turtles all the way down.

Anyone could do it, as much as anyone can come up with a black canvas, or big blobs of color, or a Eb-Eb-Eb-C motif. You can do it; but somehow you don't. Why?
« Last Edit: July 01, 2011, 12:08:06 AM by petrarch »
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Offline petrarch

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #131 on: July 01, 2011, 12:03:30 AM »
Quite the contrary, you will gain no serious foundation in music or musical composition from this stuff at all

To paraphrase:

Quote
You honestly don't seem too clued-in on much. Case & point, you are unaware of what composing music is and have to rely on an intention behind every note. And you can't fathom and seem totally unaware of theory & inspiration as a whole (breadth/depth). Add to that, that whenever we have a discussion like this you think it must be approached in an objective 'this is the right way' irrefutable manor (for "it to be valid") which is absolutely daft. (again, you're oblivious to musical ideas & composition, unaware-of what has actually occurred) Furthermore, your lack of insight & understanding is reinforced often by your comments and choices from what I see on this board.

(bold contrafacta are mine; typos are not and were unmodified to preserve the original flavor)
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Offline petrarch

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #132 on: July 01, 2011, 12:17:11 AM »
Prepared piano



The logistics of percussion music--acquiring and transporting instruments, arranging for multiple performers--made it impractical as an accompaniment for small modern dance recitals. This problem let to the invention of the prepared piano, one of John Cage's best known innovations. The story, recounted by him in "How the piano came to be prepared," begins in 1940 with the request by Syvilla Fort, a dancer at the Cornish School, for music to accompany her dance Bacchanale. The piece needed to reflect the African theme of the dance, and hence Cage wished to use percussion instruments. This plan was foiled, however, when he found that there was no room in the auditorium for a percussion battery; the only instrument he could use was a piano. He tried to write a serial piano piece in the proper style, but, not surprisingly, found this impossible. Instead, he decided to change the piano itself--to work inside on the strings of the instrument, just as Henry Cowell had done. After much experimenting, he found that screws and pieces of felt weather stripping placed between the strings would stay in place and completely alter the sound of the piano, turning it into a miniature percussion orchestra. As the story concludes, "I wrote the Bacchanale quickly and with the excitement continual discovery provided."

The alteration of a piano tone by preparing the strings with various objects is a complicated matter, involving many physical factors, some of which are contradictory. The objects add mass to the vibrating strings, thus lowering the pitch; heavier objects (such as large bolts) thus lower the pitch more than light ones (such as small screws). At the same time, the object stretches the strings, thus tending to raise the pitch and making the diameter of the object an important variable as well. The placement of the object along the string is important, in that the muting object will effectively shorten the string; placement at a nodal point will produce a more or less distinct harmonic. Soft objects (such as weather stripping or rubber) will tend to dampen the tone, shortening the decay; at high registers, this effect is less noticeable, since the decay of these notes is already so short. Placing preparations only between the two rightmost strings of a triple-strung note means that the altered sound of these two strings will mix with the unaltered sound of the third string. Thus, such a note will maintain a certain amount of its original pitch, but the altered sonorities of the prepared strings will perhaps conflict with this, causing beating. The una corda pedal can be used to silence the unaltered string by shifting the hammers to the right, thus allowing for two different sounds to issue from the same note. All these factors combine to produce sounds that are complex, inharmonic, microtonal and hence percussion-like.

Cage actually used a fairly small repertoire of objects to prepare his pianos. Both weather stripping  (made of a felt-like material) and pieces of rubber mute the string without altering the pitch significantly. The rubber gives a somewhat more resonant sound than the weather stripping, and in the higher registers the effect is similar to that of a resonant wood block. Screws and bolts provide the metallic, complex, gong-like sounds that dominate so many of Cage's prepared piano pieces. In some cases, metal washers or oversized nuts were included in the screw or bolt preparations, so placed that they would rattle against the string when played. This effect is not unlike that of a tambourine or cymbal. Pennies threaded through the triple-strung notes produce a similar gong-like sonority, but mellower, perhaps because of the penny's ability to mute all three strings simultaneously. Other less common preparation materials include pieces of wood, bamboo, and rubber pencil erasers.

Although all scores include a table of preparations, Cage's practice in notating these changed over the years. In his earlier pieces, he gave only the most general indications of what kind of object to use; in later scores, he became increasingly precise, giving the size of screws and bolts. At the same time, he began specifying the precise position of the preparation on the string, giving measurements from the piano dampers accurate down to a sixteenth of an inch. This precision, he soon found out, was misleading, since different pianos were constructed slightly differently; the same object at the same location on the same string of two different pianos could produce two different sounds. In the table of preparations for The Perilous Night, he took this into consideration, and indicated to which specific Steinway models the measurements are applicable. In Amores, he approached the problem from a different direction, describing the desired results (e.g. "the screw must be large enough and so positioned on and between the strings as to produce a resonant sound, rich in harmonics") but leaving the precise sizes and locations up to the performer.

The shift in medium from percussion ensembles to prepared piano changed Cage's style of composition. In his percussion pieces the music was made up of blocks of sound organized by the rhythmic structure. These blocks were filled up with motivic material strung along in arbitrary sequences, or were just built up of ostinato patterns. The resulting tendency is to hear these masses but not their components, to be aware of architecture and not line. In the works for prepared piano, the solo medium leads to an emphasis on melody, either alone or with simple accompaniment. The rhythms become simpler and more fluid; Cage developed a fondness for ornaments and subtle inflections. Where the percussion pieces strive for large-scale dramatic effects, the new music for prepared piano aims for intimacy and personal expression. Although it may seem strange to use the term "lyrical," it is quite appropriate in describing Cage's prepared piano works and in isolating the essential stylistic difference between these and his percussion compositions.

The majority of the prepared piano works from the 1940s were dance commissions. Of these, works written for Merce Cunningham predominate. As with Bacchanale, the prepared piano was Cage's favored medium for dance accompaniments because of its portability (any auditorium would have a piano, so he need only bring his preparations) and its ability to produce a diverse array of percussive timbres without need of additional performers.

Perhaps for practical reasons the dance works are timbrally and texturally fairly simple. Usually only a few notes (a dozen or less) are prepared, and these use only one or two kinds of preparation. In Totem Ancestor (1943), for example, eight notes are prepared with screws or bolts, two with weather stripping, and one with a screw and free-rattling nut. Texturally these works are often dominated by a single unaccompanied line, or by a line with a simple accompaniment, such as a trill or ostinato pattern (a trilling accompaniment continues intermittently throughout the first seventy measures of Bacchanale, for example). Frequently the pieces fall into a constant eighth- or sixteenth-note motion with regular repeating patterns--a kind of moto perpetuo style. In Bacchanale, the music tends to proceed in straight sixteenth notes, with syncopation arising through the use of accents and the occasional changing of pattern lengths. The melodies are built on a limited set of tones--usually no more than five or six.

Occasionally, Cage could turn the simple dance style to more effective ends. Tossed as it is untroubled (1944) consists mostly of an energetic unaccompanied line improvised on just five tones (these are prepared with weather stripping, so their pitch is quite distinct). Only at the end does Cage add a high trill on two notes prepared with screws. The sparkling metallic sound of this accompaniment changes the entire character of the muted middle-range melody in a magical way. Root of an unfocus (1944) is even more limited, relying on only three sonic elements: an irregularly-repeated, indistinct thud (produced by two low notes prepared by bolts and weather stripping), the crashing sound of a cluster of high screw-prepared notes, and a pair of tones prepared with bolts that touch the sounding board of the piano, thus producing a sharp clack when struck. The brevity, focus and effective overall shapes of these pieces make them two of the best dance works.

Music for Marcel Duchamp (1947), while not a dance commission, was also written as an accompaniment, this time for film. It continues in the style of Tossed as it is untroubled, with an improvised line on a few tones muted by weather stripping. A new idea in this piece is the prominent use of silences to punctuate the melodic phrases. The ending of the piece uses this device to great effect, with the seven-fold repetition of a four-bar pattern: a two-bar phrase followed by two bars of rests. These repetitions provide a sense of tension without the rhythmic propulsion of Cage's earlier prepared piano works.

Music for Marcel Duchamp is perhaps the summit of this style of prepared piano composition. Most of the other dance works lack its cohesion and economy. There is a tendency in these pieces towards the use of repeated patterns as "filler" for the phrase lengths required by the choreography. In pieces like Bacchanale or Mysterious adventure there can be a great deal of frenetic activity that has no particular direction, or the repetitions can become sing-song and trivial rather than static and grand as in Music for Marcel Duchamp.

The perilous night (1943-44) is the first large-scale work for prepared piano. For this piece, Cage made use of a more extensive timbral palette than he had used before: twenty-six notes are prepared, using rubber, weather stripping, screws, nuts, bolts, bamboo, wood and cloth. This suite of six separate pieces was composed with a particular subject in mind: "the loneliness and terror that comes to one when love becomes unhappy." In it, Cage gave the devices and styles of his dance works a fuller musical treatment. The opening movement, with its use of tones muted by weather stripping and a propulsive improvised line, reminds one of Tossed as it is untroubled, but held within a tighter structure. In other movements, the simple dance-style ideas are made more effective simply by keeping them brief. In the second movement, one finds the kind of syncopated patterns over a regular accompaniment common to so many of the dance pieces, but here restricted to a thirty-six measure miniature, so that they do not have time to lose their freshness. The sixth and last movement is particularly effective. Introduced by a very short, violent fifth movement, the finale is based on an idea common to the dance pieces: that of an improvised line based on a limited number of tones. Here, however, there are two such lines, one based on high muted tones reminiscent of wood-blocks, and the other on lower metallic sonorities. The rhythmic drive and obsessive patterning are kept lively not only by the irregularities in both lines, but by the resulting interactions between their patterns. The ending is quite remarkable: the momentum of these lines dies out suddenly, as if their rhythmic drive had just evaporated completely.

(from The Music of John Cage, by James Pritchett)
//p
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Offline petrarch

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #133 on: July 01, 2011, 02:25:46 AM »
If that's the intent instead of creating something musical than it's hardly worth the time.

You're really a lost cause.

On mindlessness vs mindfulness in composition, perhaps this little fragment from Morton Feldman will shed some light:

"I spent the weekend with Karlheinz Stockhausen, and he had a lot of my scores, and he took them to his room and said goodnight. And he came down in the morning and he said, 'I know you have no system, but what is your secret?' And I said to him, 'Well, Karlheinz, I have no secret, but if I could say anything to you, I advise you to leave the sounds alone; don't push them; because they're very much like human beings -- if you push them, they push you back. So if I have a secret it would be, "don't push the sounds".' And he leaned over me and he said, 'Not even a little bit?' "
//p
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snyprrr

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #134 on: July 01, 2011, 05:00:43 AM »
Glad to see things

oh, I can't even,... haha...

Offline some guy

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #135 on: July 01, 2011, 08:12:53 AM »
I've already commented on this sort-of thing many times before ..
Yes, and ya really gotta wonder, "Why?"

What is your motivation? Do you think you're accomplishing anything good by constantly badmouthing music you don't like and by constantly insulting the people who do like it? Seriously dude (to coin a phrase), do you go to parties and insult the host and criticize what people are drinking and how they dress?

[T]hat question you ask there is pretty stupid. Did you think at all before you asked it? Or did you take some manuscript paper, a spoon, some cottage cheese, a pen, and a paper cup, put it all in a box and shake it up until you ...
God knows this is probably how you do it.

[Wait a minute? Did I just break my own rule to never validate James again by responding in any way to his tactless posts? Damn. Damn damn damn.

Of course, on the bright side, James is more like a parrot or a machine that just churns out the same things over and over again, regardless of what anyone else says or does.

Still, it is a bit embarrassing to be caught yelling at a parrot.]

Anyway, on topic (though I did notice a moderator a few pages back encourage James for going off topic, so I don't know why I'm worried!!): Petrarch, you have done yeoman's service here on this thread. It is very gratifying to see all these recordings and to read Pritchett's notes about them. Some that you've mentioned I haven't even heard of before, and now I want them. Thanks for that.

Funny thing, no matter how much scorn James heaps on me, I still enjoy and value the same things I always have. How is that even possible? :o (I wonder if it's possible for a machine to feel futility?)

snyprrr

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #136 on: July 01, 2011, 08:54:17 AM »
(munching popcorn)

Offline Grazioso

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #137 on: July 01, 2011, 09:07:23 AM »
Still, it is a bit embarrassing to be caught yelling at a parrot.

He's probably pining for the fjords  ;D
There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact. --Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

snyprrr

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #138 on: July 01, 2011, 09:21:13 AM »
Tell me if I too am suffering from "I don't want to respond but I am...just...so...weak" syndrome.


I just have to admit that I don't care for Cage the man, his legacy, his lifestyle, his smiling face, his...ooo >:D, he just makes me so mad,... seriously....

So, the best thing I can do is avoid him,... which is normally done, but, of course, being the curious nibbler I am, I couldn't help but follow PetrArch's cool Posts (hey, I certainly want to hear ya'll's input on ALL these Composers!), even though I was making a sour face thinking about what the cds would sound like after I paid good money for them (haha ;)),... it's like rubbernecking a car wreck for me, I guess I have such hate in my heart that I want to unleash it against whatever worthy target is there,... such as the notion that if you play any Mozart now you are automatically playing Cage,... that I just want to hate him more and more, so I continue to read more and more (and ya gotta admit, Pet's Posts draw you in,... juuust like James's Posts (all you guys Post very very much information all the time, great Posts,... how do you all have the extra time for the politics??)),...

ok, where am I in this sentence?,...

oh yea, hating Cage, :P...haha,...

I mean, if I superimpose  two opposing speeches and add bells, and call it music,...hey,... whoopie!,... I could sit here and write 1,000 'pieces' like this on summer break if ...

^
do you see how the sheer Cage Hate makes it so I can't even finish a sentence, or thought? ???


I will admit that Late Cage is the only Old School Avant that really works as background music for me,... Feldman's ok, but is too involved,... Cage is really just 'there', like a bump on a log, like a photo of something generic that you just stare at. But I only want to feel that sedated at 3am, so that's when I think about Cage.


In a way,... no,... the more I go on, the worse it will get...

ok, he turned the piano into a gamelan, ok I'm done (I'm not, but...)

James, do you feel that there is an essential 'Cage vs. Stockhausen' situation here, that

no, haha,... I'll just wallow in my own juice,... oy vey!!


snyprrr- take your fingers off the keyboard,... step away from the console,...

Offline Brewski

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Re: John Cage (1912-92)
« Reply #139 on: July 01, 2011, 09:28:30 AM »
snyprrr- take your fingers off the keyboard,... step away from the console,...

(I'm trying not to laugh, since I'm listening to Grisey...)

 ;D

--Bruce
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