Controversial article about John Cage

Posted by: Opus_Maximus

Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 01:50 AM

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-asia/the-put-on-of-the-century_b_2403915.html

The above has been making rounds and igniting fierce combat on Facebook; I'm surprised it has not made it into here yet. It's an interesting read that should make for a lively discussion. I have some thoughts about it that I'll post a bit later on.


Enjoy!
Posted by: Nikolas

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 02:03 AM

We can't swear here, can we?

Such a poor half-witted, non-understanding review of a composer and his music... Oh boy...
Posted by: ChopinAddict

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 02:21 AM

Originally Posted By: Nikolas
We can't swear here, can we?

Such a poor half-witted, non-understanding review of a composer and his music... Oh boy...


Well, you can always use cursing. It conveys the idea.
Posted by: Nikolas

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 02:35 AM

Originally Posted By: ChopinAddict
Originally Posted By: Nikolas
We can't swear here, can we?

Such a poor half-witted, non-understanding review of a composer and his music... Oh boy...


Well, you can always use cursing. It conveys the idea.
Great idea:

cursing

cursing

Ok... now I've got it out of my chest I can say that one (eg, Daniel Asia) should think about the difference of 'traditional' music (not in the accustomed word) and avant garde!
Posted by: Mark Polishook

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 07:17 AM

I'm very surprised at how narrowly and shallowly the author critiques Cage. There's a part as well that he didn't mention, which is Schoenberg asked Cage to write several solutions to a particular cantus firmus. Cage is reported to have said this taught him not that one version is better than another but rather alternatives always exist.

In any case, it's unfortunate the writer has such limited scope. He totally misses and misinterprets Cafe's accomplishments. In particular just as there are fabulous visual artists whose work consists of institutional critique so it is w/Cage - his compositions and the presuppositions on which he based them are a critique of the tradition of which he knew himself to be a part.

I doubt Cage would have spent even seconds reading and thinking about DA's review.
Posted by: wr

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 07:36 AM

I remember hearing some positive review of Asia's music some years ago, and I remember how disappointing it was when I actually heard some of it. Although "professional", it turns out to be not very interesting, rather like that kind of artwork found in some big hotel chains and corporate conference rooms that is mostly intended to be inoffensive decoration, while still pretending to be "real art". You know, because somebody actually made it by hand.

After experiencing some of his music, it doesn't surprise that he would be the author of some clueless but attention-getting anti-Cage screed. I couldn't work up enough interest to finish it - it's as dull and uninspired as his music.
Posted by: MacMacMac

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 07:54 AM

Why the fuss? Can anyone reasonably expect anything cogent or rational from the Huffington Post? smile
Posted by: wr

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 08:16 AM

Originally Posted By: MacMacMac
Why the fuss? Can anyone reasonably expect anything cogent or rational from the Huffington Post? smile


I don't expect it any more than I expect it from any of the multiple emanations of the Voice of Murdochistan.

But sometimes I have read such things from HuffPost, so I know it is possible.
Posted by: Gerard12

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 10:11 AM

Yes, There must be some sort of editorial interference being run from the powers that be at huffpost....I can't imagine that anyone with even the pretension of being an academic would write such a sloppy, careless piece....
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 10:30 AM

For those, like me, not familiar with Cage's music, it would be far more convincing if those that disagree with the article mention some specific points of disagreement and why they disagree.
Posted by: Nikolas

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 10:51 AM

Ok PV,

By all means, I'll bite.

1. First of all, I'm against this kind of hostility in any article. Degrading anyone is bad enough, but doing it like this? Come on... DA has to do better than this.

But anyhow let me carry on, without linking to youtube actually...

2. Cage was a thinker, along with being a composer. And he wasn't what we generally refer to 'composer' (as in compose (nice) music that we can listen to). In fact one of his most infamous works is 4'33". A piece of total silence.

So let me discuss a little bit about 4'33" and see if I can explain a bit better, why this work IS important, if taken as a work. (and my opposition to something else, btw).

Cage was having a lot of questions in the nature of silence. Ultimately he went to an echoless (unechoic?) room and remained there for a tiny bit utterly quiet. The room was of course sound proof as well. But instead of total silence he was met with 2 different sounds: His heart and his pulse.

So he came to a conclusion that total silence is non existent. And as such it HAS to be important. So important and so always there, that we forget about it. And 4'33" is the concert hall piece of that. It's of course a very silly wink in the eye as well (at least I think) to the classical world, especially when you see it performed in the Proms! (there's a video of that in youtube! grin).

Cage was also very interested in chance music, and he used the iching (correct me if I'm wrong) to check out various possibilities. He made a number of lectures with quadraple texts on top of each other, and radios playing, etc.

He was (most probably) obsessed with the lack of control by the composer and the performers. Thus the idea of throwing in a radio, and a toilet, etc...

I should note that my distaste for traditional publishers (while I'm also one) was amplified when I found out that the score of 4'33" was sold! grin

2. Now, one of his other most notable ideas (<- idea. Not work... See? He was a conceptionalist rather than a 'classical' composer!!!) was the prepared piano. The story goes that he had to compose music for a ballet (single person) who was from Brazil and only a piano was available. So he started putting things in the piano to alter its sound.

And it worked GREAT! Brilliant! Beautiful in fact.

His sonatas and interludes for prepared piano, are in fact very nice works. They sound like contemporary (2013) loops, or drums, or other beats.

And he did it back in the 50s, and 60s...

I do believe that he studied with Arnold (as mentioned in the article) and with others as well... But we do need to remember that Arnold, even with working with twelve tone, etc, was a very competent teacher and a master of traditional harmony. In fact his book on harmony is great (if you take into account that it was written 80 years ago, right?).

________________________

As I said in my previous post, it's idiotic (at least) to be comparing Cage with Stravinsky. Cage music is, to begin with, very difficult to be put in a recording, exactly because of the chance encounters that it requires! It has to be felt live! Joe can probably say more about this.

But I'd like to offer to Daniel another idea: Why not compare Stravinsky and Bach and see who's the greatest, huh? I mean it's only some years apart (200+). And they are different. Exactly like Cage and Stravinsky are.

One should be oblivious to the fact that in the 20th century (and 21st) we have ALL the previous trends running at the same time: You get classical, baroque, serialism, soundz, beats, hip-hop, etc. You just cannot compare different styles like that, especially when you're talking about avant garde. Why not try Stravinsky vs. Queen for example? What? Not the same... bah...
Posted by: bennevis

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 11:25 AM

I don't think one can perform 4'33'' without a score - the audience will just think you're improvising wink . Just like many pianist-composers who play their own music from the score (even though they know it backwards) while dispensing with it for Chopin, Beethoven etc in the rest of their concert.

But I was at a music store recently and found the Urtext edition costing $10. Cheap at the price.

Incidentally, Cage's Piano Concerto (for prepared piano and chamber orchestra) was also played at the Proms (last year) - a lovely piece it is too.
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 01:24 PM

Thanks for posting this.

I didn't have it in me to read the whole article, but from what I could gather, all it says is that he just doesn't like Cage's music, and unwittingly he shows that he just doesn't get the music and is too closed-minded to realize it.
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 01:26 PM

Originally Posted By: bennevis
I don't think one can perform 4'33'' without a score - the audience will just think you're improvising wink

I performed it once, and used the score. smile
Posted by: carey

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 02:09 PM

Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Originally Posted By: bennevis
I don't think one can perform 4'33'' without a score - the audience will just think you're improvising wink

I performed it once, and used the score. smile


Guess you didn't trust your memory !!
Posted by: bennevis

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 02:12 PM

Originally Posted By: carey
Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Originally Posted By: bennevis
I don't think one can perform 4'33'' without a score - the audience will just think you're improvising wink

I performed it once, and used the score. smile


Guess you didn't trust your memory !!


Did you have your stopwatch hidden within its pages? I hope you didn't time it from memory......
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 03:29 PM

Originally Posted By: bennevis
Did you have your stopwatch hidden within its pages? I hope you didn't time it from memory......

I put a watch on the piano. smile
Posted by: RealPlayer

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 04:05 PM

You do need a watch or preferably a stopwarch. There are three movements; each has its own timing and (I'm trying to recall the score here) you should perform some action or gesture that makes it clear one movement is ending and the next is starting.

I just had a brief glance at the article. How amazing that, of all of Cage's output he chose to critique the Sonatas and Interludes, one of the loveliest and most accessible early works. What would he have said about the purely chance-derived music!

I remember Dan Asia; I think I even played in a New York ensemble he conducted, probably over 20 years ago. I wouldn't have expected this from him. But then I don't know his own composed music.
Posted by: MacMacMac

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 04:24 PM

Before Bugs Bunny, many people had never hear of Franz Liszt.

Cage didn't need that kind of help from contemporary popular media.
EVERYONE in the world will recognize his 4'33". smile
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 04:31 PM

Originally Posted By: RealPlayer
....you should perform some action or gesture that makes it clear one movement is ending and the next is starting....

But that's not by any means certain, and shows that even for this piece, interpretation is involved.

(No smiley, because that's serious.)

Quote:
I remember Dan Asia; I think I even played in a New York ensemble he conducted, probably over 20 years ago. I wouldn't have expected this from him.

20 years is a long time, and people change. And with age, often the change involves becoming more rigid and closed-minded. Of course we can aspire to the opposite.
Posted by: bennevis

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 04:52 PM

Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Originally Posted By: RealPlayer
....you should perform some action or gesture that makes it clear one movement is ending and the next is starting....

But that's not by any means certain, and shows that even for this piece, interpretation is involved.

(No smiley, because that's serious.)



I don't recall seeing any such instructions on the score of 4'33'' that I saw in the music shop. It was a blank page with a few random minute ink spots which I presume was Cage's own, not a mistake at the printer.

And in the Proms performance I watched (an entirely serious performance, I should add), I didn't see any gestures from the conductor.

P.S. I can't believe we're discussing this work (or piece) in such detail. Cage must be rolling over in his grave, doubled up with
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 05:34 PM

My copy of the score (honest!) smile shows 3 movements, each marked simply TACET.

But the idea that we "should" somehow mark each movement, as stated above, is just a view.
Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 05:44 PM

Originally Posted By: bennevis
I can't believe we're discussing this work (or piece) in such detail.

Frankly my dear... I can't either!
Posted by: ChopinAddict

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 06:15 PM

Silence speaks volumes!
Posted by: Lemon Pledge

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 07:56 PM

Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
For those, like me, not familiar with Cage's music, it would be far more convincing if those that disagree with the article mention some specific points of disagreement and why they disagree.


If you're completely unfamiliar with the music, I don't think anything I can say will resonate.

But did you read the article? There's nothing in it to disagree with, no substance meriting debate or argument. All I got was (1) author doesn't like Cage's music, and (2) Cage's music isn't music (or isn't good music) because it doesn't do the things that good music does. The first is totally uninteresting. The second is a tautology, and particularly obtuse since one of Cage's major achievements was to help us expand or re-think our notions about what music can be, and to experience it in different ways. Then there were bits about Cage not being as important as Schoenberg or Stravinsky, and not deserving the airtime he's getting this year, which whatever.
Posted by: wr

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 08:01 PM

Kyle Gann, a composer, teacher, and writer (he was music critic for the Village Voice for almost two decades), has written a very interesting book about Cage and 4'33", called No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage's 4'33". Although the focused on the piece, it is so rich in context that it almost becomes a survey of the arts of the time. I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable read, not dry at all, and recommend it to anybody even mildly interested. At Amazon.com link I give, you can preview a number of pages, although it's too bad so many of them are of the preface, which seems a bit strange. But there's a good deal of the first chapter, too.
Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 08:40 PM

I don't have a problem with Cage's work for prepared piano, but could someone kindly explain what this all means, and why it should matter to me?

Quite the vintage video -recommended for that- and the actual performance commences about 5:39.

Hate to come off as a youngish old fogey, but IMO there's just so much other contemporaneous music which is far more engaging.

Posted by: ruiomichlet

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 10:02 PM

There's a part as well that he didn't mention, which is Schoenberg asked Cage to write several solutions to a particular cantus firmus.
Posted by: Damon

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 10:14 PM

Originally Posted By: argerichfan
I don't have a problem with Cage's work for prepared piano, but could someone kindly explain what this all means, and why it should matter to me?



It's a lot better with the radios plugged in. Damn unions.
Posted by: ChopinAddict

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 10:21 PM

I am not sure, but maybe he wants to evoke emotions and/or memories in the audience. Sounds can evoke memories, and of course they will be personal. Just like smells in Proust.
Posted by: RealPlayer

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 10:57 PM

Well, I probably shouldn't comment without score in hand...maybe I'm misremembering. Mark C may be right in that no sub-durations are given, but David Tudor performed the work as a three-movement work with the keyboard lid closed, then opened, as delineation points for the movements.

Google search says there have been more than one set of time subdivisions to mark off the movements, and they are quite specific. But then again, if there are no definite markings in the score, then they must be optional.
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 11:11 PM

Originally Posted By: RealPlayer
....Mark C may be right in that no sub-durations are given....

There are definitely no "sub-durations." smile
But as I said, the score that I have indicates 3 "movements."

Quote:
David Tudor performed the work as a three-movement work with the keyboard lid closed, then opened, as delineation points for the movements.

.....which was evidently how he chose to observe the indicated movements.
Posted by: RealPlayer

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/21/13 11:41 PM

Thanks, Mark.
Posted by: ChopinAddict

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/22/13 12:30 AM

From the Wikipedia:
4′33″ (pronounced "Four minutes, thirty-three seconds"[1]) is a three-movement composition[2][3] by American experimental composer John Cage (1912–1992). It was composed in 1952 for any instrument (or combination of instruments), and the score instructs the performer not to play the instrument during the entire duration of the piece throughout the three movements (which, for the first performance, were divided into thirty seconds for the first, two minutes and twenty-three seconds for the second, and one minute and forty seconds for the third).
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/22/13 12:37 AM

Originally Posted By: ChopinAddict
....(which, for the first performance, were divided into thirty seconds for the first, two minutes and twenty-three seconds for the second, and one minute and forty seconds for the third). [/i]

(I assume that was David Tudor.)

I agree with those durations. grin

Most 3-movement pieces have the 1st movement relatively longer and the 2nd movement shorter. I agree that for this, those relative lengths are better.

BTW when I did the piece, in fact I also did "actions" marking the movements, as per what RealPlayer said. But IMO it's not indicated or implied that you have to.
Posted by: bennevis

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/22/13 08:31 AM

Which instrument do you prefer for a performance of this great seminal work?

I know we're all pianists here, but I have a soft spot for the versions for snare drum and ukelele. The piano version, in comparison, sounds rather insipid.
Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/22/13 10:27 AM

Originally Posted By: bennevis

I know we're all pianists here, but I have a soft spot for the versions for snare drum and ukelele. The piano version, in comparison, sounds rather insipid.

laugh , did you see the Hitler diatribe on YT? For reasons that will be readily apparent, it will NOT be linked here.
Posted by: bennevis

Re: Controversial article about John Cage - 01/22/13 11:05 AM

Adolf almost said something sensible there.....