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John Cage and the Big

March 23, 2011

I’m over the hump in the John Cage bio begin again by Kenneth Silverman, and it’s been a very interesting read. You may disagree, but I really enjoy reading about the very normal activities Cage engaged in regularly that sometimes border on mundane. For someone so mythical, I like to know he still dealt with apartment issues or was starstruck by certain people.

I also think that part of John Cage’s world view seemed to celebrate the little, the normal, or in other words the human, so while the book may not be jam-packed with the more glamorous moments in his life, I think it’s wonderful that Silverman chose to not… choose.  It’s Cage-ean.

To those ends, I was not surprised to read about all of the little musical moments Cage organized such as the events that could only be created among a small group of people or his operating of the van for Merce Cunningham’s small tours. I was also not terribly surprised that when Cage started increasing in popularity, scaling his ideas to larger sizes were often underwhelming (the New York Philharmonic performance, Cunningham’s ambitious Asian tour). Cage has always been the composer that most identified with “Man is small, and therefore, small is beautiful.”

Obviously I’m not writing this to talk about the things I found not surprising about this book.  I just finished reading Cage’s HPSCHD, which was essentially a massive multimedia presentation with all sorts of musical styles, sights, and sounds being heard simultaneously throughout a room. Using more than 7 Harpsichords, 52 tape machines, 59 loudspeakers, and 64 slide projectors, the piece would have been a delight for anyone who loves sensory overload.

Such a presentation of this magnitude was something I had never really thought of Cage as being the creator of, and it definitely changes my view of him. Silverman’s brief commentary on the event suggests it was Cage’s attempt to artistically create Buckminster Fuller’s concept of abundant resources, or Cage version of 1960’s flower power.

Also, sometime after page 200, Silverman details Cage’s relationship with Marshall McLuhan. I wonder what would have happened if Cage had gotten a chance to explore the Internet. What Cage did with HPSCHD was essentially proto-Internet. I’d like to think he would have been able to create a more human, less spectacle Internet, and he would have been able to use the Internet as a tool of Art, rather than a tool for consuming art.

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