John Cage

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Cage, John,

1912–92, American composer, b. Los Angeles. A leading figure in the musical avant-garde from the late 1930s, he attended Pomona College and later studied with Arnold SchoenbergSchoenberg, Arnold
, 1874–1951, Austrian composer, b. Vienna. Before he became a U.S. citizen in 1941 he spelled his name Schönberg. He revolutionized modern music by abandoning tonality and developing a twelve-tone, "serial" technique of composition (see serial
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, Adolph Weiss, and Henry CowellCowell, Henry Dixon
, 1897–1965, American composer and pianist, b. Menlo Park, Calif., largely self-educated, studied musicology in Berlin (1931–32). Cowell experimented with new musical resources; in his piano compositions he introduced the tone cluster, played with
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. In 1943 he moved to New York City, where his concerts featuring percussion instruments attracted attention. For these performances he invented the "prepared piano," in which objects made of metal, wood, and rubber were attached to a piano's strings, thus altering pitch and tone and producing sounds resembling those of a minuscule percussion group. Cage's Bacchanale (1938) and Sonatas and Interludes (1946–48) were composed for prepared piano. Cage sought to break down the barrier between "art" and "nonart," maintaining that all sounds are of interest. Many of his works seek to liberate "nonmusical sounds." For example, 4'33" (1952), probably his most famous piece, consists of 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence, providing a frame to be filled by random environmental sounds.

Cage also conceived the idea of a "composition indeterminate of its performance," in which the composer gives the performer instructions that do not directly condition the resultant sounds. For example, his famous Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (1951) is scored for 12 radios tuned at random. In addition, he adopted procedures whereby the composer does not directly condition the sounds of the resultant composition, using such methods as the roll of dice or a consultation of the I Ching (see aleatory musicaleatory music
[Lat. alea=dice game], music in which elements traditionally determined by the composer are determined either by a process of random selection chosen by the composer or by the exercise of choice by the performer(s).
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). Cage, who for many years was associated with choreographer Merce CunninghamCunningham, Merce
(Mercier Philip Cunningham), 1919–2009, American modern dancer and choreographer, b. Centralia, Wash. Cunningham studied modern dance with Martha Graham and ballet at Balanchine's School of American Ballet.
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, also wrote music for the dance, to be played independently of the choreography. A kind of musical provocateur, Cage is noted for his inventiveness, his humor, and his strong influence on minimalist composers such as Philip GlassGlass, Philip,
1937–, American composer, b. Baltimore. Considered one of the most innovative of contemporary composers, he was a significant figure in the development of minimalism in music. Glass attended the Univ. of Chicago, the Juilliard School of Music (M.A.
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 and on the development of performance artperformance art,
multimedia art form originating in the 1970s in which performance is the dominant mode of expression. Perfomance art may incorporate such elements as instrumental or electronic music, song, dance, television, film, sculpture, spoken dialogue, and storytelling.
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. His influence also extended to such media as poetry, video art, painting, and printmaking. Cage wrote several books, among them Silence (1961) and A Year from Monday (1967).

Bibliography

See D. Charles, For the Birds: John Cage in Conversation (1981); C. Brown, Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham (2007); biographies by D. Revill (1992), D. Nicholls (2007), and K. Silverman (2010); studies by P. Griffiths (1981), J. Pritchett (1993), W. Fetterman (1996), R. Kostelanetz (1970, 1991, 1993, and 1997), C. Shultis (1998), D. W. Patterson (2001), D. W. Bernstein and C. Hatch (2001), P. Dickinson, ed. (2006), K. Gann (2011), J. Robinson, ed. (2011), and K. Larson (2012); D. Nicholls, ed., Cambridge Companion to John Cage (2002); E. Caplan and D. Vaughan, Cage/Cunningham (video, 1991).

Cage, John (Milton)

(1912–92) composer; born in Los Angeles. Cage studied with a number of teachers including Henry Cowell and Arnold Schoenberg, who helped provoke his avant-garde proclivities. He began writing all-percussion pieces in the 1930s and proclaimed the use of noise as the next musical horizon; in 1938 he introduced the "prepared piano," an instrument whose sound is radically modified by various objects placed on the strings. While writing much for prepared piano in the 1940s, notably the Sonatas and Interludes, he also produced some pioneering electronic music. Among the most widely influential elements of his thought was the idea of indeterminacy, music that is not strictly controlled, as seen in his 1951 Landscape No. 4 for twelve radios—the sound of which depends on what happens to be on the air. Later works, especially the notorious 4'33" (1954), involve complete silence. He continued to develop such concepts and he also produced several quirky, engaging books beginning with the 1961 Silence. In his later years he was widely acclaimed as one of the more original of American artists.