Were he still alive, experimental music messiah John Cage would turn 100 this week. Consider taking a moment of silence today in honor of Cage’s genius. Or four and 33 seconds.
The man responsible for such works as 4’33”, Indeterminancy, A Valentine Out of Season, and Cartridge Music was affiliated with Wesleyan on and off from 1955 until his death in 1992. He first came to campus to work with composer David Tudor on the prepared piano, performances described by The Argus as “clunks, clanks, plinks, and plonks.” Cage continued working with members of Wesleyan’s music faculty (particularly Alvin Lucier) and was a Center for Advanced Study fellow in 1960–61 and 1969–70. In this role, he taught classes in experimental music. In 1961, Wesleyan University Press published his book, Silence, followed by M and A Year From Monday. (Here’s a review that ran in the October, 1961 Argus.)
Finally, in early 1988, Wesleyan hosted a massive week-long festival-symposium celebrating his 75th birthday. (Here’s coverage in the Argus and the New York Times. Also, Ampersand coverage, featuring “indeterminate typing.”) When I took Experimental Music with Alvin Lucier in 2009, Cage’s music stayed prominent on the syllabus. Lucier spoke of his old friend often, and passionately.
In honor of the anniversary this week, the New York Times featured Cage prominently in an Anxiety column piece by Margaret Leng Tan, who credits the composer’s theories on Zen philosophy with helping her confront Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s a fascinating piece, if somewhat tangled and overwhelming. Pitchfork, meanwhile, posted five classic YouTube clips of Cage performing and speaking. My favorite (thanks, D. Nassty ’13) is this freaking awesome footage of Cage playing amplified cactus parts:
Also, some scattered electronic noise-making from 1966:
Three old Cage-related Argus articles below. They’re from 1972, 1961, and 1988 respectively.