22 November 2006

An Awkward Silence

The phone rang late last night. It was a musician friend of mine. Get this: someone had given him an iTunes gift certificate and he wanted to know if I could recommend a piece by John Cage! I haven't laughed that hard in a long time...but then there was a pause. While I've read and been tremendously influenced by Cage's writings, I had to admit to almost complete ignorance of his actual compositions. In order to circumvent this inconvenient and embarrassing fact, I just told my friend that the more indeterminate a piece is, the more the performers (rather than the composer) will influence the perceived quality of the music. Perhaps it is fitting that Cage is the recipient (or non-recipient) of many backhanded compliments ("more a philosopher than a composer"?). After all, he aimed to destroy the very mechanism by which accolades are bestowed. Nonetheless, he had enough impact that years after his death, people are still going to iTunes to download his, um...I had better be careful here...recordings of sonic realizations of his scores. I will say this: I have heard two of his pieces performed by top-notch ensembles/performers. Both were highly indeterminate and I tremendously enjoyed them both. That might say more about me than it does about Cage (or at least that's what he would have said), but I think the man deserves some credit; he deserves to be listened to; he deserves to have a piece OTHER than 4'33'' associated with his name; and I had better put my money where my mouth is and pick up some recordings. So...uh, can anyone else recommend ME a recording of a piece by John Cage?

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