John Cage (Composer) Biography

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Who was John Cage? What did John Cage do? Information on John Cage biography, life story, works and compositions.

John Cage; (1912—1992), American composer of modern music, noted for his highly unconventional ideas and techniques of composition and performance. He was born in Los Angeles, Calif., on Sept. 15, 1912. After studying with Henry Cowell and Arnold Schonberg in the 1930’s, Cage left the West Coast and moved to New York in 1943. There his concerts for percussion only, his “prepared piano” (in which various objects such as rubber bands and coins are attached to the piano strings), and experiments with electronic media, attracted attention in advanced musical circles.

Among Cage’s many original ideas waj the concept of a “total soundspace” that might incorporate any or all sounds, musical or otherwise, premeditated or accidental. Another radical idea was his notion that the composer need not necessarily “control” sound, but instead might “discover means to let sounds be themselves.” Reminiscent of certain oriental philosophies, this concept in its most far-reaching consequences questions the traditional responsibility of the artist toward his work.

Cage’s innovations in respect to timbre and form show a logical and consistent development. A pattern can be traced from Inventions (1934), in which no instruments were specified, through the use of taped and electronically manipulated sounds in the early 1950’s, to the inclusion, in some works, of all available sounds, recently with extreme mechanical amplification. A similar pattern of development in terms of rhythm and form has led to their virtual dissolution in some of his compositions. His 4 Minutes and 33 Seconds (1954) requires a pianist to sit silently before his instrument for that period of time. However unorthodox and occasionally bizarre Cage’s works may be, they have left an indelible mark on 20th century music.

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