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06 January 2015 @ 05:46 am
Why John Cage should never have been taken seriously as a composer  
If you develop an ear for sounds that are musical it is like developing an ego. You begin to refuse sounds that are not musical and that way cut yourself off from a good deal of experience.
If you develop a preference for food that tastes good, it is like developing an ego. You begin to refuse inedible food and that way cut yourself off from a good deal of experience. Hire me as a chef.
PROBE UNIVERSEliviapenn on January 6th, 2015 02:13 pm (UTC)
You're equating listening to non-musical sounds to eating inedible food, but is that really the case? Is there zero value or enjoyment in any non-musical sound-- the sounds of animals, or nature, or the ambient sound in a park?
El Coyote Gordo: Blackaddersupergee on January 6th, 2015 03:10 pm (UTC)
If I want to hear the sounds in a park, I go to a park. If I want to hear music, I want to hear it from someone who prefers music to nonmusic.

I would cheerfully accept that advice from anyone who is not paid to create music.

Edited at 2015-01-06 03:11 pm (UTC)
PROBE UNIVERSEliviapenn on January 6th, 2015 03:48 pm (UTC)

"If I want to hear music, I want to hear it from someone who prefers music to nonmusic."

But the original quote doesn't say anything about whether John Cage "prefers" music to non-music.

And saying that John Cage is "paid to create music" so he shouldn't voice any opinions about the value of non-musical sound is a strange way of looking at an artist's job. John Cage isn't "paid to create music," he's an artist who creates works that he thinks have artistic value, and sometimes he's been financially stable and sometimes not. Why does that devalue his opinion of other kinds of sound?

Are painters and photographers allowed to talk about how beautiful nature is, or do you only think people who aren't paid to make art should be allowed to talk about the beauty of non-art? That just seems really odd.
El Coyote Gordo: coy1supergee on January 6th, 2015 04:17 pm (UTC)
I'm probably not making myself clear. I'm not arguing with Cage's opinion. I'm not telling anyone else not to pay for his alleged music. What I'm trying to say is I want to hear music from people who think music is different from nonmusic. If a painter thinks that nature is as beautiful as art, that's fine. If she were to sign her name on a window rather than creating something, well, that gag's been done before.
PROBE UNIVERSEliviapenn on January 6th, 2015 04:32 pm (UTC)

It seems like you're reading the John Cage quote in your original post as if it were the lead-in to a sales pitch. I don't think it is one; it's simply about appreciating natural sound. Adding on in the idea that he's going to be "signing his name to it" and then objecting to *that* isn't really responding to what the quote is about.
El Coyote Gordo: rocket coyotesupergee on January 6th, 2015 04:27 pm (UTC)
Thinking more about it (and thank you for encouraging me to do so), visual art is supposed to be imitative, and I would respect a painter who says, "I cannot paint anything as beautiful as what is really there, but I will try." Music is not imitative; it is composed, and I prefer those who compose it out of music.
PROBE UNIVERSEliviapenn on January 6th, 2015 04:36 pm (UTC)

I think you just have a way more conservative definition of What Is Art and What Is Music than I do. There's plenty of non-imitative visual art. Visual art isn't "supposed" to be imitative any more than music is always composed (I mean, what about jazz, what about improvised music?)
El Coyote Gordo: cat goddesssupergee on January 6th, 2015 05:34 pm (UTC)
To me art is definitionally something created by human beings (or anything else that passes the Turing test). "Composed" was sloppy; of course the creators can include the musicians.
Tom Jacksonjacksontom on January 6th, 2015 03:44 pm (UTC)
So, what music by John Cage has you listened to?
El Coyote Gordo: disgustsupergee on January 6th, 2015 04:10 pm (UTC)
I once had to listen to something of his. I've repressed what it was.
Sarcasticia Nitpickersontisiphone on January 6th, 2015 07:09 pm (UTC)
Perhaps it was 4'33", and so it's faded from your mind.
Tom Jacksonjacksontom on January 6th, 2015 11:06 pm (UTC)
His piano music is actually quite good. Some of the composers he influenced (such as William Duckworth) also are good. My point is that a composer should be judged by his music, not by his opinions.
kaffyr: Buster thinkskaffyr on January 6th, 2015 09:16 pm (UTC)
Hmmm. I am not a fan of the small amount of John Cage compositions I've heard. And when I was younger, I very much objected to calling the compositions he created music.

The older I've gotten, however, the more I think he was a valid artist. The quote of his which you reproduce here doesn't appear to be easily parsed, in part because I'm not sure how he compares "developing an ego" (whatever the hell that is) with "developing an ear for sounds that are musical." Additionally, I'm not sure what he means by "sounds that are musical."

I find myself confused because I've decided, again as I grew older, that the term music is an incredibly large mansion, with many, many rooms. We automatically assume that music should be "melodic" and we further assume that "melodic" should mean "pleasing to the ear," and we further tend to assume that "pleasing to the ear" should mean "pleasing to my ear."

None of those are inherently true, although they can all be true in many ways. But so much of what humans consider music is deeply dependent on cultural context, or temporal contex. For instance, while I would like to believe that a musical creator such as Mozart would, eventually, connect with and understand jazz or Gershwin, or the music of Noh theater, or the polyrhythms of various cultures through the vast African continent, it would be a journey for that person. But for many people of Mozart's time and culture, understanding would elude them - just as understanding of jazz or rock and roll of any stripe eludes people now, or understanding of non-western music by western listeners be difficult or impossible.

Does that make jazz or African polyrhythms or Noh theater orchestration any less music? No. Are some of those sounds unpleasing to some people's ears, and do they thus interpret those sounds as not being music? Yes. Do I think they are correct in doing so? No.

I would go further and say that if Cage defined the compositions he created as not being music, he was incorrect (yes, I'll be that presumptuous.) It is, rather, music that does not conform to given norms - "norm" being an extremely elastic term itself.

Music is not merely an attempt by humans to communicate through sound. It is the choice made by humans to interpret sounds as a method of communication, and as a source of joy. As an example, I consider the sound of a plashing brook to be musical, yet no human's hand created it. It becomes music through my instinctive, or deliberate, interpretation of it as music.

I recognize the sound of a rhythmic power drill, and, while I don't like it, I can understand how it can, with complete validity, be considered music.
El Coyote Gordo: chocolate coyotesupergee on January 6th, 2015 09:51 pm (UTC)
I think that most people (including me) have an overly narrow view of what constitutes music, and if I thought he was saying that, I wouldn't argue. I interpret him as saying that drawing any music/unmusic distinction is unelightened.
Kalimackalimac on January 6th, 2015 11:48 pm (UTC)
You interpret him correctly. Cage believed that ambient noise and other "extra-musical" sounds were as valid as music as any great composition. He did not draw a line between what most of us call music and what most of us don't.

I have my own thoughts on how to take what Cage is doing. But for your part, I have no objection to saying, Denounce away.
Eli: wavespriteeub on January 7th, 2015 08:58 am (UTC)
I don't know how Cage meant "music", but one reading (that I happen to like) is with "music" being about whether a thing was done by people with artistic intent. Using that sense, then we'd say the sound of the brook isn't music in itself, but we can still listen to it for aesthetic pleasure without even necessarily saying it becomes music or is listened to as music.

("thing was done" not necessarily meaning the person made the sound -- the thing they did could have been they recorded a segment of it and presented it: that's music (though fairly low-skill and not particularly creative).)

Or Cage might have used a narrower sense and defined his compositions as being non-"music", I don't remember.
eub on January 7th, 2015 08:37 am (UTC)
All the work in your analogy is being done by the difference between "inedible" and "not musical". "Inedible" implies it in fact can't or won't be eaten (at the very least not with any pleasure or nutritional value). "Not musical" does not imply it in fact isn't listened to for aesthetic appreciation. It is.