John Cage

American composer (Los Angeles, 1912 - New-York, 1992)

John Cage was a composer, poet, theorist, plastic artist, mycologist and writer who had on the art of the 20th century a major impact. He greatly contributed to shooking up the Western traditional ideas about music and the function of the composer.

Even if he studied under Arnold Schoenberg in the United States, John Cage quickly moved away from the composition academic rules to focus on experimentation. His research on sound and rhythm, not without correlation to visual arts like painting and dance, led John Cage to reconsider the importance of chance and of silence in music: from that moment, it is the notion of musical time itself that he would consider as essential. This reflexion, fed by the discover of Buddhism and Taoism, allows the music to be free of the memory and the intent and defines an absent hierarchy within the sounds themselves. To illustrate that idea, on top of the invention of the prepared piano, there are some pieces, like 4'33" where the ambient sound of the venue is the inner substance of the piece. Most of John Cage's pieces were written from percussion instruments or for the prepared piano, for sources of sound and instruments whose performers number and nature is unidentified. 

The impact of John Cage on the world of music is both disturbing and stimulating: pretty soon, he would see young composers follow his footsteps, such as David Tudor, Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff or Earle Brown who would form around him the school said "of New York".

Six landmark dates in the life of John Cage

• 1938: invented the prepared piano to accompany the ballet Bacchanale of Syvilla Fort.
• 1939: composed the first piece of electronic music Landscape n°1 for two record players of variable speed, recordings of sinusoidal sounds of varied frequencies, piano and cymbal
• 1942: stayed in New York with Max Ernst and Peggy Guggenheim, and met Mondrian, André Breton, Virgil Thomson and Marcel Duchamp. Later, he was welcome at Jean Erdman's home and met dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham.
• 1949: met Pierre Boulez and Pierre Schaeffer in Paris
• 1958: went to Darmstadt for a seminar on "the composition for process".
1962: composition of 0’00’’

Five key pieces by John Cage

• 1940: Living Room Music
• 1944: Four walls
• 1948: Suite for Toy piano
• 1952: 4’33
• 1980: Litany for the Whale