Discovering John Cage

Last year through an inadvertent search on minimalist music, the name “John Cage” came up in my Apple Music feed. Nearly one year later, I am still working through the catalogue of performers who have recorded versions of his many compositions. I am still watching and listening to interviews he was involved in, as well as interviews of his partner, influential choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham.

Cage’s body of work is not for the average music listener. Even the average classical music fan might find it strange for their taste. Having heard so many of his compositions at the time of this writing, I believe his music and work should be discussed in greater detail in more academic settings and in some of the front pages of music journalism. His music is fascinatingly fluid and detailed for being considered minimalistic by many.

Any sounds constitute music. I am a firm believer in this and consider it one of the reasons I find some unbearable humans to be “bad singers” just based on hearing them talk. Jokes aside (yes there was a joke there), Cage’s unusual approach to sounds has created some controversy among listeners. Several piano pieces have sections that lead listeners to believe a person might have laid their arm across a whole section of the keyboard. They might be right. That action constitutes sound, and I believe Cage wrote out exactly those sound intentions in his compositions. His “prepared piano” compositions remain a source of amazement to me right now. Changing up the piano by adding objects to project different sounds turn the instrument at times into a mass percussion ensemble.

Speaking of percussion ensembles, Cage composed many works for percussion ensembles. What I’ve heard so far among those compositions is quite different from the piano music in several ways. Overall, those works do have an appearance of experimentation to them while giving listeners insight into how musical percussion instruments really can be.

My new “favourite song” is Cage’s masterwork 4’33”. I tell people on a regular basis it is the greatest song to listen to at any time. If you did not click on the link in the start of this paragraph, I recommend you do so now before continuing to read the rest of this post.

4’33” should serve as a reminder that existing in the closest thing to silence as possible is a composition itself. Cage believed that their was no true silence. So, this song is meant to be 4 minutes and 33 seconds of time where a performer does not do anything with their instrument. The air, any sudden movements of ambience, THAT is what makes up the composition.

Much of Cage’s work can be found on YouTube through different interpretations. All are worth watching and turning an ear towards. I highly recommend you engage in a daily performance of 4’33” and take a few minutes to exist within and listen to the quietest space possible.



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