John Cage

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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.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.