John Cage Notes

He thought if he’s not going to have tonality in his music he’ll need something to make an alternative structure, and that was rhythm. The European structure is based on tonality, and wouldn’t admit noises or pitches outside the major and minor scale.

Noises delighted Cage, his interest were with noises and he was also interested in time. He saw time as the proper basis of sound because it included both sound and silence.

John Cage sees himself as a percussion composer whether he writes for percussion instruments or not, his work is based on duration rather than frequency.

‘I still believe what I wrote in 1939 “Percussion music is revolution.”‘  (Kostelanetz. 1987). New music new society. Accepting the fact that noises are sounds and that music is made with sounds, not just musical sounds.

Cage doesn’t hear music when he writes it. He writes to hear something he hasn’t heard. His notation is unusual, he writes in a way which isn’t familiar.

Cage uses the I Ching a lot when he is composing. He studied Zen Buddhism. He wanted the music to have no intention, and starting from an empty mind.

4’33” is a piece with three movements and throughout the whole piece there are no sounds. He wanted the piece to be free from his likes and dislikes, free from the composer’s feelings. Also he wanted people to realise that the sounds of the environment were more interesting than the music they hear in a concert hall. In the premiere during the first movement you could hear the wind stirring outside. During the second you could hear the rain on the roof, and during the third the audience were making all sorts of interesting sounds.

0’00” is the continuation of one’s daily work, whatever it is, done with contact microphones, without an audience in a theatre or concert hall. Simply continuing one’s daily work but now amplified through loudspeakers. The piece is saying everything we do is music, everything he does produces sound. When the sound are quite they become loud through the use of the microphones. Also what he does once may not be repeated again.

‘By means of electronics, it has been made apparent that everything is musical.’ (Kostelanetz. 1987). Musical pleasure can come from making audible the sounds that already exist.

‘Rozart Mix’ is a performance, this performance at Brandeis used six performers, thirteen tape machines and ninety tape loops of different lengths. The performance was to put the loops on the various tape machines and take them off. Because there were so many tape loops it was clear that there were no intentions involved with which tape to play. The number of people and tapes also depended on who was available that evening and how many tapes were available, so also free of intentions.

The idea with ‘Variations VII’ was to go fishing for the sounds, to pick up the sounds which are already in the air. Using ordinary radios, Geiger counters, police radio receiver and telephone lines connected to different parts of the city, these sound were made audible for the audience to enjoy.


John Cage created his own way of drawing his music compositions. His intention was to make a notation that would recognise that sounds did truly exist in a field, he wasn’t happy with the limitations of tradition music notes, the notes were always at a certain pitch. In 1958 they were in a exhibition, it was Bob Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns who thought that Cage’s musical scores should be exhibited.

There is no such thing as silence. Rauschenberg ‘White Paintings’, 1940s, were four white un-painted canvases. Cage thought they were like looking at silence, the paintings collected dusk, you could see the different texture on the canvas, shadows, they changed with the light. Cage composed a music piece called 4’33”, which is four and a half minutes of silence, the performance is about the sounds of the environment. The Nam June Paik film, is a film with no images, so when it is projected the dust particles on the film is what you see. The nature of the environment is on the film, with the ‘White Paintings’ the environment is falling onto the canvas. With the 4’33’ music piece, the sound of the environment remain where they are. The essential meaning of silence is to give up the intention.



~ by deodesign on September 1, 2007.

3 Responses to “John Cage Notes”

  1. great, easy to understand and to the point! thanks!! michelle, art student

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