News: John Cage
Lou Reed, Yoko Ono, Tim Hecker and more on what the composer meant to them
BEFORE and After Cage — that’s how Yoko Ono thinks the history of Western music should be carved up, in recognition of John Cage’s towering influence over the artform.
It was the centenary of the great composer’s birth yesterday (Sep 5), and in his honour NPR decided to ask 33 musicians what Cage’s work communicates to them. Here’s a brief selection of the answers given — head here to see the full list.
Yoko Ono: “History of Western music can be divided into B.C. (Before Cage) and A.C. (After Cage). I was a lucky girl to have bumped into him in my roller coaster life. Us downtown artists called him J.C., for Jesus Christ … not to his face, but when we spoke about him amongst us. He was a good friend, and I miss him.”
Jean-Hervé Péron (Faust): “M. Cage communicated to me the profound assurance that there is nothing serious about music.”
Laetitia Sadier (Stereolab) “To answer John Cage’s perforating question, I’ll have to bring light upon the fact that music has always held a special place in my existence. From a young age music imparted meaning. Somehow the world around me made more sense when music — preferably the stuff that I liked — was being played. Everything would liven up; take on a more significant and consequential countenance. So I’ve always experienced music as something transformational, a true alchemic force that has worked as an intangible bridge from which there is a view to transforming myself and the world.”
Lou Reed: “EVERYTHING IS MUSIC.”
Tim Hecker: “Cage communicated perhaps, above all, a sense of the importance of the ear in cultural experience. Cage’s midcentury world was arguably a milieu where text was supreme and visuality was increasingly dominant. Yet the ear was, as always, a back-seat passenger. His work sought to wrestle away the taken-for-grantedness of hearing. He made an argument for disciplined listening; a push for an enlarged notion of what compositional practice was and encouraged a new form of spirituality through the ear. Yet the irony of his work is that he relied most on the act of writing and acoustic silences to make his case.”
Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti (Throbbing Gristle): “Cage conveyed an opening up to the “view” of music/sound by his unorthodox approach to sound making by investing his works with not just experimentalism but a sense of irony, humour and freedom from established modes of composition. It’s that freedom, the breaking down, embracing and conflating of visual and audio structures, and the notion of democratising presentation by also removing the barrier between audience and performer that opened the minds of so many. Music as a means of communication remains of paramount importance to our work. What it communicates is always going to be largely dependent on the subjectivity of the listener irrespective of the presentation and intention of the composer. That’s where the beauty of music/sound lies, it’s an incredible vehicle for opening dialogue.”