John Cage is undeniably one of the most important composers of the twentieth century. He has broadened the definitions of music to include all types of sound. In a 1962 interview with composer Roger Reynolds in Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music, Cage said, “If, in our dealings with our composition of music, we find that it distorts our daily life, then there must be something wrong with the way we’re composing, it seems to me. Whereas, if the way we compose is applicable to our daily life, and changes it, then it seems to me that there is something useful in the way we’re composing music.”
John Milton Cage, Jr., was born on September 5, 1912, in Los Angeles, California. As a child he took piano lessons from his aunt. He attended Los Angeles High School, establishing the highest scholastic average in the school’s history, and was valedictorian at his class’s graduation in 1928. He enrolled in nearby Pomona College in Claremont, California, where he remained for two years. After withdrawing from Pomona, Cage traveled extensively in Europe and North Africa. He dabbled in architecture and painting and began composing music, using a complex mathematical system he designed to approximate the style of the eighteenth-century German composer Johann Sebastian Bach.
In 1931 Cage returned to California with no money or job. He supported himself by giving lectures on modern art and music. Through these lectures, he developed an interest in the music of Austrian-born composer Arnold Schoenberg. Cage studied with Richard Buhlig—the first American pianist to perform the music of Schoenberg—and then in New York City with Adolph Weiss, a former student of Schoenberg. He also attended classes taught at New York City’s New School for Social Research by the composer Henry Cowell. In 1934, Cage began studying with Schoenberg privately in Los Angeles and attending his classes at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.
In the 1930s Cage began writing percussion music, and in 1938 he was asked by dancer Syvilla Fort to write the music for her dance, Bacchanale. Because of space limitations, a percussion ensemble could not be used. Unhindered, Cage was able to achieve the effect he desired by placing objects inside the piano, thus altering the sound of the strings. This innovation, influenced by Henry Cowell’s work in which piano strings were stroked or strummed, became known as the “prepared piano.” Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes of 1946 to 1948 remains his most famous work for prepared piano.
For the Record…
Born John Milton Cage, Jr., September 5, 1912, in Los Angeles, CA; died of a stroke August 12, 1992, in New York, NY; son of John Milton Cage (an engineer and inventor) and Lucretia Harvey; married Xenia Kashevaroff, 1935 (divorced, 1945). Education: Attended Pomona College, Claremont, CA, 1928-30; studied composition with Richard Buhlig and Adolph Weiss, 1933; studied harmony, contemporary music, and non-Western music with Henry Cowell at the New School for Social Research, 1933; studied composition, counterpoint, and analysis with Arnold Schoenberg both privately and at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles, 1934.
Musical adviser, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, beginning in 1947; cofounded New York Mycological Society, 1962. Has taught and held fellowships at various colleges and universities, including Chicago Institute of Design, 1941; New School for Social Research, 1956-58 and 1959-60; University of Cincinnati, 1967; and Center for Advanced Study at University of Illinois, 1967-69.
Selected awards: Received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, 1949, and National Academy of Arts and Letters, 1949; Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France, 1982.
Member: American Academy of Arts and Sciences; American Society for Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).
Addresses: Home— 101 West 18th Street, New York, NY 10011. Music publisher —C. F. Peters Corporation, 373 Park Avenue S., New York, NY 10016.
In February of 1943 the League of Composers presented a concert of music written by Cage and others at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The concert was well received by critics and the public, and Cage’s recognition as a leading avant-garde composer became widespread.
After his divorce in 1945 from Xenia Kashevaroff, whom he had married ten years earlier, Cage took an interest in Eastern thought. He studied with Indian philosopher Gita Sarabhai and was instructed in Zen Buddhism by D. T. Suzuki, a leading authority on Zen who taught at Columbia University. The influence of Eastern philosophy on Cage resulted in his experimentation in the early 1950s with “chance operations,” in which the means of composition are chosen at random. Cage began using chance operations in order to let music speak for itself, rather than imposing personal taste or desire onto it. American composer Christian Wolff, a former student of Cage, explained the method of composing in a 1982 National Public Radio interview, stating, “what you’re listening for is sound in combinations that are not usual, though, when you get right down to it, are not that different from what you hear if you really listen to the world around you.”
The first piece Cage wrote using chance operations was Sixteen Dances, composed for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 1950. Another chance piece, composed in 1951, was Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra. After 1950 Cage’s chance compositions were based on the use of the / Ching, or “Book of Change,” an ancient Chinese text containing hexagrams used for making predictions by tossing coins. Cage’s first piece composed by using the / Ching was similarly called Music of Changes.
In the early 1950s Cage became aware that absolute silence was an impossibility; even the supposedly soundproof chamber he had visited at Harvard University revealed that he could hear his nervous system and circulation in operation. The result of this discovery was 4’33” (four minutes and thirty-three seconds), a piece in which the performer appears but does not play an instrument. Instead, the audience is encouraged to listen to the sounds around them. 4’33” was Cage’s affirmation of the important role of nonintended sounds and remains perhaps his most famous work.
During the 1950s and 1960s Cage accepted teaching positions and visiting fellowships at several American universities. Meanwhile he composed Atlas Eclipticalis, an orchestral piece created by consulting astronomical charts he acquired at the Wesleyan University observatory, and HPSCHD (pronounced “harpsichord”), written in collaboration with University of Illinois composer Lejaren Hiller.
Since the late 1960s Cage has been devoted largely to eclecticism, either using elements from earlier works or combining previous ideas and methods with new ones. Perhaps most significant are the ambitious Etudes Australes for piano of 1974 to 1975, composed by tracing astronomical charts onto music paper; Child of Tree (1975) and its companion piece Branches (1976), in which contact microphones amplify the sounds of plants; and Roaratorio, an Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake (1979), which features bits of text from James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake accompanied by a collage of music, particularly traditional Irish music. In 1987, Cage’s first opera, Europera, premiered in Frankfurt, Germany.
“Music is about changing the mind—not to understand, but to be aware,” Cage expressed to Michael John White in the London Observer. The composer’s music urges the audience to listen with new ears and pay attention to sound. “For any one of us,” Cage wrote in his book Silence, “contemporary music is or could be a way of living.”
Silence, Wesleyan University Press, 1961.
A Year From Monday, Wesleyan University Press, 1967.
Empty Words, Wesleyan University Press, 1979.
Third Construction, 1941.
Credo in Us, 1942.
The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs, 1942.
The Perilous Night, 1944.
Sonatas and Interludes, 1946-48.
Sixteen Dances, 1950.
Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra, 1951.
Music of Changes, 1951.
Williams Mix, 1952.
Concert for Piano and Orchestra, 1957-58.
Cartridge Music, 1960.
Atlas Eclipticalis, 1961.
(With Lejaren Hiller) HPSCHD, 1967-69.
Sixty-Two Mesostics re Merce Cunningham, 1971.
Etudes Australes, 1974-75.
Child of Tree, 1975.
Freeman Etudes, I-XVI, 1977-78.
Roaratorio, an Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake, 1979.
Empty Words, 1981.
Aria, Virgin Classics.
Cartridge Music, Mode.
Indeterminacy: New Aspect of Form in Instrumental and Electronic Music (1959), Folkways.
Music of Changes, Wergo.
The Perilous Night, New Albion.
Sonatas and Interludes, Wergo.
Third Construction, Nexus.
Has also recorded works for piano and prepared piano on Wergo Records.
Cage, John, Empty Words, Wesleyan University Press, 1979.
Cage, John, Silence, Wesleyan University Press, 1961.
Cage, John, A Year From Monday, Wesleyan University Press, 1967.
Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music, edited by Elliot Schwartz and Barney Childs, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1967.
Conversing With Cage, edited by Richard Kostelanetz, Limelight Editions, 1988.
Griffiths, Paul, Cage, Oxford University Press, 1981.
John Cage, edited by Richard Kostelanetz, Praeger Publishers, 1970.
Nyman, Michael, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, Schirmer Books, 1974.
Tomkins, Calvin, The Bride and the Bachelors: Five Masters of the Avant-Garde, Viking Press, 1965.
Baltimore Sun, November 19, 1982.
Horizon, December 1980.
New York, March 29, 1982.
New York Times, March 12, 1982; August 26, 1985; July 10, 1988.
Observer (London), September 26, 1982.
Washington Post, September 30, 1981; November 16, 1991.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from The Sunday Show, National Public Radio, September 5, 1982.
American avant-garde composer John Cage (1912-1992) experimented with the nature of sound and devised new systems of musical notation. His innovative ideas on composition and performance influenced musicians, painters, and choreographers.
John Cage questioned all musical preconceptions inherited from the 19th century, and he flourished in an atmosphere of controversy. The teacher-composer Arnold Schoenberg once called him "not a composer, but an inventor—of genius." He received awards and grants; a few important music critics wrote perceptively and enthusiastically about his works. However, to most of the public and even to many musicians his compositions—especially the late ones—remain baffling and outrageous, an anarchic world of noise that cannot even qualify as music.
To Cage, "everything we do is music." He believed that the function of art is to imitate nature's manner of operation, and to this end he tried to make music that resembles forms of organic growth—taking into account ugliness, chaos, and accidents, as well as beauty, order, and predictability. In addition, the manner of nature's operation appears to change according to scientific advances. One can find roots of Cage's experiments with "chance" and "indeterminacy" in the work of such French Dadaists as painters Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst and the surrealist poet André Breton in the early part of the 20th century, when quantum theory and the theory of relativity in physics were giving rise to new ways of conceiving space, time, and causality.
Cage was born in Los Angeles, California, on September 5, 1912, the son of John Milton Cage, an inventor and electrical engineer. John studied piano as a boy. After two years at Pomona College, he spent a year and a half in Europe, trying his hand at poetry, painting, and architecture, as well as music.
Cage dedicated himself to music shortly after returning to the United States in 1931. His first composition teacher was pianist Richard Bühlig, a noted interpreter of Schoenberg. In a musical world then divided between the serialism of Schoenberg and the neoclassicism of Igor Stravinsky, Cage found himself in the Schoenberg camp. In 1933 Cage went to New York City to study with a former pupil of Schoenberg, and also took Henry Cowell's classes. In 1934 he returned to Los Angeles and was accepted as a pupil by Schoenberg himself.
During the years with Schoenberg, Cage developed three new interests: percussive music, silence, and dance. He started experimenting with percussion ensembles, discovering or adapting instruments as he went along. Finding Schoenberg's use of tonality as a structural principle inappropriate for percussion music, Cage sought a workable method. He decided that silence was the opposite coexistent of sound and determined that of the four characteristics of sound—pitch, timbre, loudness, and duration—only duration was also characteristic of silence; so he abandoned harmonic structure and began to use a rhythmic structure based on the duration of segments of time. Much of this early music is quiet, delicate, full of silences. Construction in Metal (1937) is a good example.
Rising Avant-garde Composer
Cage's interest in modern dance was immediately reciprocated; dancers were eager to collaborate. Cage spent two years in Seattle as composer and accompanist for the dance classes of Bonnie Bird. During this time he found that inserting screws between the strings of a piano would create a kind of one-man percussion ensemble. This "prepared piano" became one of his most admired contributions to music, and he wrote a good deal of music for it.
After spending a year in San Francisco and a year teaching at the Chicago School of Design, Cage moved to New York City in 1942. A concert at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943 established him as a rising avant-garde composer.
In 1945 Cage developed an interest in Eastern philosophy that soon had a profound effect on his work; he studied Indian music and attended Daisetz T. Suzuki's lectures on Zen Buddhism. About this time Cage became musical director for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company; this was the beginning of a long-term association.
In 1949 Cage won an award from the National Academy of Arts and Letters for the invention of the prepared piano and a Guggenheim grant. His Sonatas and Interludes, performed at Carnegie Recital Hall, was very well received. Cage and Cunningham gave recitals in Europe, which brought Cage into contact with the new generation of French musicians, including Pierre Boulez and Pierre Schaeffer. This year marked a culmination and a turning point.
Chance and Indeterminacy
Until 1950 Cage had been writing what he considered to be expressive music. Now his interest in Zen led him to question this. "When we separate music from life," he wrote in Silence, "what we get is art (a compendium of masterpieces). With contemporary music, when it is actually contemporary, we have no time to make that separation (which protects us from living), and so contemporary music is not so much art as it is life and anyone making it no sooner finishes one of it than he begins making another just as people keep on washing dishes, brushing their teeth, getting sleepy, and so on." To make his work consonant with the workings of nature and to free it from the tyranny of the ego, he experimented with "chance" procedures. Chance played a limited role in Sixteen Dances (for Merce Cunningham), but to create Music of Changes (premiered in 1952) Cage adapted methods from the I Ching, the Chinese Book of Changes, which involved tossing coins onto a series of charts to determine pitch, duration, and so forth. These experiments found little favor with the musical establishment, although Cage became closely involved with a circle of musicians with similar interests.
Cage swept forward into radical departures from all traditions, including his own. His Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (1952) involved 24 men turning the dials of 12 radios. At Black Mountain College in the summer of 1952 he created a proto-"happening" that involved simultaneous dance, poetry, live music, records, films, slides, and an art exhibit. He produced his ultimate exploration of silence, 4'33"(1952), in which the pianist sits immobile before the instrument, marking the beginning and end of each of the three sections in any way he chooses.
By 1958 Cage wished his music to be even more indeterminate in performance, that is, to give the performer a hand in the creation. Thus he did away with the usual score, instead devising a kit of materials: plastic sheets marked with predetermined codes, which the player was to superimpose in order to arrive at his "part." His improvisations did not endear him to the musical establishment. In 1958, when a group of artists presented a Cage retrospective at Town Hall in New York City, the audience that had enthusiastically applauded the earlier works expressed loud dissatisfaction during the performance of Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1958). And in 1964, when Leonard Bernstein presented Cage's Atlas Enclipticalis with the New York Philharmonic, not only members of the audience but also some of the musicians hissed the composer. This saddened Cage but did not deter him.
In 1954 Cage moved to a small art colony in Stony Point, New York. Here he developed an interest in mushrooms. He taught about them at the New School for Social Research and founded the New York Mycological Society in 1962. He also delivered a series of lectures. These talks, full of charm and wit, were, like his music, compositions of words and silence; they were not "about" anything so much as aggregates of thought on whatever interested him: music, mushrooms, Erik Satie, Buckminster Fuller, Marshall McLuhan, life.
As early as 1939 Cage had been interested in electronics. He believed that his Imaginary Landscape No. 5 (1952) was the first piece of magnetic-tape music to be created in America. In the 1960s Cage decided that pure electronic music might be boring for a concert audience, since there was nothing to look at. He experimented with placing contact microphones on conventional instruments; once he even placed a mike against his own throat, turned the volume up, and swallowed thunderously. The microphones, with the feedback used as a musical element, produce unbeautiful and often deafening effects. But Cage's belief that man must come to terms with the loud and ugly noises of modern life accords with his belief that if art has a purpose it is to open the mind and senses of the perceiver to life.
Cage's music became louder and more dense. One of his works, HPSCHD (produced in collaboration with Lejaren Hiller, finished in 1968), was created with the aid of a computer. It involves a possibility of playing up to 51 audio tapes and up to seven harpsichord solos simultaneously. A computer printout is supplied with the recording, which gives the listener a program for manipulating the controls of his stereo phonograph. Thus the music can still remain indeterminate in performance. Cheap Imitation (1969), based on a piece by the French composer Erik Satie, replaces the original pitches with randomly selected notes.
Cage's compositions of the 1970s continued to blend electronic noise with elements of indeterminacy. He created the score for the piano work Études Australes (1970) using astronomical charts. His 1979 piece Roaratorio in corporated thousands of sounds from James Joyce's novel Finnegans Wake
The increasing sophistication of computers helped shape Cage's work in the 1980s, most notably in the stage work Europeras 1 & 2 (1987). The piece, written, designed, staged, and directed by Cage, is essentially a collage of snippets from existing operas woven together by a computer program designed by Cage's assistant, Andrew Culver. The opening performance of Europeras 1 & 2 was itself a casualty of chance, however, when a vagrant set fire to the Frankfurt Opera House a few days before its debut. In all, Cage would complete five Europera works between 1987 and 1991.
Cage was also a prolific author. Drawing on influences like Gertrude Stein and Dada poetry, he created works such as M (1973), Empty Words (1979), Theme and Variations (1992), and X (1983). Some of these Cage designed as performance pieces, which he read aloud to the accompaniment of his own music. In other cases, he relied on computer assistance to generate evocative, semi-coherent poetry.
Cage also created and collected visual art: photographs, prints, paintings, and etchings. His musical scores, which eschew conventional notation in favor of idiosyncratic graphic markings, were exhibited in galleries and museums. A collection of his watercolors was exhibited at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. in 1990.
As he grew older, Cage was the recipient of numerous honors and awards. Each milestone birthday past the age of 60 was celebrated with a series of concerts and tributes the world over. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1978, and was one of 50 artists inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1989. In 1981, he received the New York Mayor's Honor Award of Arts and Sciences. The following year, the French government awarded Cage its highest cultural honor when it made him a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters. Cage traveled to Japan in 1989 to accept the prestigious Kyoto Prize.
A longtime New York City resident, Cage was known as an affable if soft-spoken man who was obliging toward young musicians and critics. He would often attend concerts in downtown Manhattan. Cage's only marriage ended in divorce in 1945. For the last 22 years of his life, he lived with his former collaborator, the choreographer Merce Cunningham. Cage died of a stroke on August 12, 1992.
Many of Cage's articles, lectures, and anecdotes were published in two collections: Silence (1961) and A Year from Monday (1967). The most detailed biographical account is the essay on him in Calvin Tomkins, The Bride and the Bachelors: The Heretical Courtship in Modern Art (1965). A brief but excellent discussion of Cage's position in 20th-century music is in Eric Salzman, Twentieth Century Music: An Introduction (1967). John Cage, a bibliography of his works compiled by Robert Dunn (1962), contains a brief biography, excerpts from reviews, an interview, lists of available recordings, and details of many first performances. Cage's philosophy and music are discussed in Peter Yates, Twentieth Century Music (1967). More recent studies of Cage include Fleming and Duckworth's John Cage at 75 (1989) and Paul Griffiths, Cage (1981). A series of Cage's later lectures are collected in Cage: I-VI (1990). Cage's obituary appeared in New York Times on August 13, 1992. □
The particular elements of Cage's avant-garde outlook were: use of any kind of environmental sounds or noises; use of ‘chance’, as in Music of Changes where the selection process involves tossing a coin; abandonment of formal structures; use of silence; use of a wide range of elec. and visual techniques. His stated belief was that any noise constituted music. ‘Nothing is accomplished by writing, hearing or playing a piece of music’, he wrote (1961). He regarded 4′33″ as his most significant work: the performer or performers sit silently on the platform. The ‘music’ is whatever sound comes from the audience or outside the hall. Books incl. Silence (1961), A Year from Monday (1967), and For the Birds (1981). Works incl.:OPERA: Europera I/II, for 19 soloists and orch. (1987).BALLET: The Seasons (1947).ORCH.: conc., prepared pf., chamber orch. (1951); Concert for pf., 63 pages to be played, whole or in part, in any sequence (1957–8); Atlas Eclipticalis (1961–2); Cheap Imitation (1972, orch. version of pf. solo); Etcetera (1973); Score (40 drawings by Thoreau) and 23 Parts (any instr. and/or vv., 1974); Quartets I–VIII (24, 41, or 93 instrs., 1976); Quartet, concert band and 12 amp. vv. (1976–8); 30 Pieces for 5 Orchestras (1981); Etcetera 2/4 Orchestras (1986).PERCUSSION & ELEC.: perc. qt. (1935); Trio, suite for perc. (1936); Construction I in Metal, perc. sextet (1939), II, perc. qt. (1940), III, perc. qt. (1941); Imaginary Landscape I, 2 variable speed gramophone turntables, frequency recordings, muted pf., cymbal (1939), II (March), perc. quintet (1942), III, perc. sextet (1942), IV (March No.2), 12 radios, 24 players, cond. (1951), V, any 42 recordings as magnetic tape (1952); Living Room Music, perc. qt. (1940); Credo in Us, perc. qt. incl. radio or gramophone and pf. (1942); Speech, 5 radios with news reader (1955); 27′10.554″, percussionist (1956); But what about the noise of crumpling paper . . . , perc. ens. (1986).CHAMBER MUSIC: cl. sonata (1933); 3 pieces, fl. duet (1935); Nocturne, vn., pf. (1947); Str. Qt. (1949–50); 6 Melodies, vn., kbd. (1950); 4′33″ (silent, for any instr. or combination of instr.) (1952); Variations I–VI, any no. of players and sound-producing means (1958–66); HPSCHD, 7 hpd. soloists, 51 or any no. of tape machines (1967–9); Cheap Imitation, vn. solo (1977); Freeman Etudes, vn. solo (1977); Chorals, vn. solo (1978); Postcard From Heaven, 1–20 hps. (1983); 30 Pieces for Str. Qt. (1984); 13 Harmonies, vn., kbd. (1986).PIANO (solo unless stated otherwise): Music for Xenia (1934); Metamorphosis (1938); Experiences I, pf. duet (1945); Ophelia (1946); Dream (1948); 7 Haiku (1952); Music of Changes (1951, in 4 vols.); Music for Piano (1952–6, several works); Winter Music, 1–20 pianists (1957); 0′00″ (4′33″ No.2) to be perf. in any way by anyone (1962); Cheap Imitation (1969, orch. version 1972, vn. solo 1977); Études Australes, 32 studies in 4 books (1974–5); ASLSP (1985); One (1988); Swinging (1989).PREPARED PIANO: Bacchanale (1940); And the Earth Shall Bear Again (1942); In the Name of the Holocaust (1942); Amores, 2 solos for prepared pf. and 2 trios for 3 percussionists (1943); Totem Ancestor (1943); Meditation (1943); Spontaneous Earth (1944); A Valentine Out of Season (1944); Daughters of the Lonesome Isle (1945); Sonatas and Interludes (1946–8); Music for Marcel Duchamp (1947); 34′46.776″ for a pianist (1954); 31′57.9864″ for a pianist (1954).MISCELLANEOUS: Music for Carillon Nos. 1–5 (1952–67); Les Chants de Maldoror pulverisés par l'assistance même (1971); Haikai, gamelan (1986).VOCAL: 5 Songs, cont., pf. (e.e. cummings) (1938); Forever and Sunsmell (cummings), v., perc. duo (1942); The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs, v., closed pf. (Joyce) (1942); Experiences 2, solo v. (1948); Song Books, Solos for voice 3–92 (1970); 62 Mesostics re Merce Cunningham (1971, unacc.); Hymns and Variations, 12 amp. vv. (1978); Litany for the Whale, 2 vv. (1980); Five, 5 vv. or instr. (1988); 4 Solos for Voices 93–96, sop., mez., ten., bass (1988); Europera III, 6 singers, 2 pf., 6 gramophone operators, lighting, tape (1989); IV, 2 singers, 1 record-player, pf., lighting (1989); V, pianist, 2 singers, lighting, tape (1991).TAPE, AUDIO-VISUAL, etc.: Water Music (1952); Fontana Mix, tape or any instr. (1958); Where are we going? And what are we doing? (1960); Rozart Mix (1965); Bird Cage (12 tapes, 1972); Lecture on the Weather (12 perf., 1975).
John Cage, 1912–92, American composer, b. Los Angeles. A leading figure in the musical avant-garde from the late 1930s, he attended Pomona College and later studied with Arnold Schoenberg, Adolph Weiss, and Henry Cowell. In 1943 he moved to New York City, where his concerts featuring percussion instruments attracted attention. For these performances he invented the
in which objects made of metal, wood, and rubber were attached to a piano's strings, thus altering pitch and tone and producing sounds resembling those of a minuscule percussion group. Cage's Bacchanale (1938) and Sonatas and Interludes (1946–48) were composed for prepared piano. Cage sought to break down the barrier between
maintaining that all sounds are of interest. Many of his works seek to liberate
For example, 4′33″ (1952), probably his most famous piece, consists of 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence, providing a frame to be filled by random environmental sounds.
Cage also conceived the idea of a "composition indeterminate of its performance," in which the composer gives the performer instructions that do not directly condition the resultant sounds. For example, his famous Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (1951) is scored for 12 radios tuned at random. In addition, he adopted procedures whereby the composer does not directly condition the sounds of the resultant composition, using such methods as the roll of dice or a consultation of the I Ching (see aleatory music). Cage, who for many years was associated with choreographer Merce Cunningham, also wrote music for the dance, to be played independently of the choreography. A kind of musical provocateur, Cage is noted for his inventiveness, his humor, and his strong influence on minimalist composers such as Philip Glass and on the development of performance art. His influence also extended to such media as poetry, video art, painting, and printmaking. Cage wrote several books, among them Silence (1961) and A Year from Monday (1967).
See D. Charles, For the Birds: John Cage in Conversation (1981); C. Brown, Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham (2007); biographies by D. Revill (1992), D. Nicholls (2007), and K. Silverman (2010); studies by P. Griffiths (1981), J. Pritchett (1993), W. Fetterman (1996), R. Kostelanetz (1970, 1991, 1993, and 1997), C. Shultis (1998), D. W. Patterson (2001), D. W. Bernstein and C. Hatch (2001), P. Dickinson, ed. (2006), K. Gann (2011), J. Robinson, ed. (2011), and K. Larson (2012); D. Nicholls, ed., Cambridge Companion to John Cage (2002); E. Caplan and D. Vaughan, Cage/Cunningham (video, 1991).