The Next Track, Episode #123 – John Cage’s Silent Piece 4’33”, with Kyle Gann

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxKyle Gann, author of No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage’s 4’33”, discusses this seminal work.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #123 – John Cage’s Silent Piece 4’33”, with Kyle Gann.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

The Next Track, Episode #69 — Brian Brandt of Mode Records on John Cage, Morton Feldman, and the Music Business

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxWe talk with Brian Brandt of Mode Records about releasing recordings of avant garde music, and the difficulties of the music business.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #69 — Brian Brandt of Mode Records on John Cage, Morton Feldman, and the Music Business.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

Book Notes: John Cage’s Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)

Cage diaryJohn Cage is best known for his music, but his writings were also very important. He wrote theoretical articles and lectures, as well as a great deal of poetry, and a variety of uncategorizable works. One little-known written work of his was his Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse), written between 1965 and 1982. (, Amazon UK)

This wasn’t a standard journal or diary, of course, as its tittle suggests. In it, Cage wrote about the world around him, and how things could be improved. He wrote about technology, art, and humanity. He often cites such thinkers as Buckminster Fuller and Marshal McCluhan, as well as some of his composer and artist friends and acquaintances, and authors like Thoreau, Joyce, and Wittgenstein.

The text is often fascinating, and is full of aphorisms that one can appreciate. Here are a few:

We learn nothing from the things we know.

We have only one mind (the one we share). Changing things radically, therefore, is simple. You just change that one mind.

Having everything we need, we’ll nevertheless spend restless nights awake with desire for pleasures we imagine that never take place.

Distractions? Interruptions? Welcome them. They give you the chance to know whether you’re disciplined. That way you needn’t bother about sitting cross-legged in the lotus position.

Information is what happens to us. That is, future happens before we experience it.

In keeping with Cage’s odd methods of composition, he wrote the diary using chance operations. As the publisher’s website says:

Originally typed on an IBM Selectric, Cage used chance operations to determine not only the word count and the application of various typefaces but also the number of letters per line, the patterns of indentation, and — in the case of Part Three published as a Great Bear Pamphlet by Something Else Press — color. The unusual visual variances on the page become almost musical as language takes on a physical and aural presence.

Parts of the diary were published in the past, in various collections or editions, but this is the first time the entire diary is published in one book. In addition, following the way Cage created one publication using different colored fonts, the publishers have used chance operations to determine which colors and typefaces should be used for each part of the text. Here’s an example of a two-page spread:

Cage diary pages

As you may expect, this is not a book for everyone. If you appreciate John Cage, you’ll find this a visually stunning approach to one of his lesser-known texts.

And, if you wish to hear him read his diary, you can listen to a five-hour recording he made in 1991, which makes liberal use of stereo effects (his voice sometimes on one channel, sometimes the other, and sometimes both).

John Cage and Morton Feldman in Conversation, 1967

Listening to a recent recording of Morton Feldman’s For John Cage today (on this new recording of his Works for violin and piano, I searched on the web for some information about Feldman and Cage, and found these very fascinating recordings of the two of them in conversation, recorded for WBAI in 1967, and available from

I: July 9 1966
On intrusions – is it reality or culture? The role of the artist – deep in thought.
Is it possible to avoid the environment around us? Being constantly interrupted? Larry Rivers, Bob Rauschenberg, Franz Kline, Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Boulez, Black Mountain College. On boredom and Zen, Buckminster Fuller.

II: July 1966
Governments, modern music, freedom from being known. Writing for large or small ensembles. Boulez and Stockhausen’s reactions. Writing for Christian Wolff and electric guitar. de Kooning. Lukas Foss. Cage comments on Feldman’s soft sounds. Having stamina to make an action. On working alone. Working “at home”. Being asocial and the telephone. Edgard Varese. The question of death.

III: 28 December 1966
“There is so little talk these days.” Talking in England. The ICA lectures. Kitaj. David Sylvester. English pompousness. Cardew. Compositions as “work-in-progress”. Thinking about Mozart. Webern and other possibilities for new music. Differences between Boulez and Stockhausen piano pieces. Varese and process. Space, silence, notation, scales. Finding the vertical. Grandeur of Varese. Stockhausen’s refusal. Looking into the future. Buckminster Fuller’s ideas on ending war.

IV: 16 January 1967 (Part 1)
Design in a disposable world. How our sense of time has changed. “How do we spend our time?” Conversation as enjoyment. Impermanence and music. “Do you prefer the composition, or hearing the music?” Feldman working on “In Search of an Orchestration”. Composers silent on Vietnam. Painters are not. Protests in Europe. Fuller’s views and World Resources Inventory. Global Village.

V: 16 January 1967 (Part 2)
Varese or Webern? On Boulez. On an upcoming concert in Cincinnati.
Problems, stories of performances. “Why do you continue to compose?” Creating new notation. Students making compositions. The way things are done nowadays. Things are “less narrow now”.
Children, and the Middle Ages. “If we apply ourselves to the social situation… as composition rather than criticism, we’ll get somewhere!”

Interestingly, I started listening while playing Feldman’s For John Cage in the background, and this was strangely satisfying.