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John Cage: Still Making Noise at 100

Today is the centennial of the birth of John Cage, the avant garde composer who saw the music of everyday life.

This clip from a 1960 episode of I’ve Got a Secret featuring Cage is amazing. It was a game show — but the host and the audience took Cage seriously, even though what he did undoubtedly seemed odd. Even more amazingly, the host (based on the Wikipedia entry for the show and my own memory, it may be a young Bill Cullen) didn’t patronize Cage. Instead, he decided, on the fly, that what the guest did was more interesting than the game that was set to take place. Since there was not time for both, he simply let Cage perform.

This is from NPR:

In the 1940s, Cage pioneered electronic music, creating works out of randomly assembled snippets of audio tape. But perhaps Cage’s greatest invention was his approach to music and art. After two years studying Zen Buddhism, Cage came up with the idea of using chance to compose his music. He used the I Ching and literally rolled the dice to determine what elements went where, freeing the music from the composer’s preconceptions. Cage said he wanted to see each act as new, as a fresh experience — even something you do every day.

While watching this clip and reading about Cage, it occurred to me that the genesis of music must have been efforts by people to emulate the sounds of their natural environments. If that’s so, what Cage did is in a way truer music than what we associate with the art form.