Thursday, January 27, 2011

Chapter VI - John Cage

VI. John Cage: 
                        “One of the liveliest lectures I ever heard…was called Zen Buddhism 
                                  and Dada. It is possible to make a connection between the two, 
                                  but neither dada nor Zen is a fixed tangible.” -  John Cage

John Cage was an experimental composer and as mentioned earlier he taught at Black Mountain College.  He is known for using everyday sounds that are not usually thought of as music in his compositions.  This idea was directly influenced by Marcel Duchamp’s use of everyday objects as art.  Cage was quite aware of Duchamp and his ideas and the two met in the late 1940s.[2]  The second influence that dominated Cage’s work was the teachings and philosophies of Zen Buddhism.  He studied Zen in the mid 1940s and it deeply affected his outlook on life and music.[3]  Cage explained his beliefs, "The attitude that I take is that everyday life is more interesting than forms of celebration [art] when we become aware of it..."[4]  To him, art was everywhere, everyday life was art and every sound we hear was music or had the potential to be and these daily sights and sounds were more interesting to him than the accepted forms of art and music.  Cage thought that art should be concerned with equivalency of values instead of elevating artistic experiences from everyday experiences - "in this way art becomes important as a means to make one aware of one's actual environment."[5]  This comes directly from Buddhist teachings on the importance of being aware of every moment and present in every moment in life.  Every second is significant and one should always have the awareness of that.  When this is applied to art or music then one is always aware of the potential of every object, act or sound potentially being art.  This also pertains to the teaching philosophy at Black Mountain of art and learning continuously taking place as part of everyday life.  Cage undoubtedly played some part in implementing that concept.
Cage staged a performance at Black Mountain College in 1952 that is considered by some to be the first Happening.[6]  The piece held significant importance to Fluxus and Happenings artists.  It was called, “Theatre Piece 1.”  The piece included the reading of poetry by M.C. Richards, an exhibition of paintings by Robert Rauschenberg, piano playing by David Tudor and dancing by Merce Cunningham.[7]  It was a loosely outlined event that incorporated chance and was very similar to events that took place at the Cabaret Voltaire.[8]  After Cage’s involvement at Black Mountain College he taught at the New School for Social Research in New York in the late 1950s.[9]  Among his students were future Fluxus artists George Brecht, Jackson Mac Low and Dick Higgins.[10]

1 John Cage, Silence, (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1961), xi.
2 Owen Smith, Fluxus: The History of an Attitude, (San Diego: San Diego State University Press, 1998), 20.
3 Ibid. 21.
Ibid., 22.
Ibid., 21.
Zommer, DVD.
Smith, 23.
10 Ibid.

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