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.com, 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 Archive.org.

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

Here is a summary of the three conversations:

Part 1 (39:25):
This first of a three part conversation between John Cage and Morton Feldman was recorded at WBAI in New York between October 18-25, 1967. The segment begins with Cage and Feldman discussing the various ways people perceive intrusion in their lives. The composers then spend some time on the occupation of the artist as “being deep in thought,” and what the goals or purposes of “being deep in thought” might be. A brief analysis of Black Mountain College follows before Cage and Feldman return to the idea of being in thought, and the role of boredom in life. The conversation ends with Cage explaining his hesitation towards taking on students.

Part 2 (49:41):
The second part of their conversation was recorded at WBAI in New York on October 24, 1967. Like the first installment, much of this conversation centers on intrusions in the life of an artist. Cage and Feldman look at how everyday tasks such as correspondence are affected by the artist’s desire to not disappoint the public once the public has recognized the artist. Cage and Feldman engage in a fairly philosophical discussion regarding the telephone, and recount some anecdotes about using the phone book. They also return to the topic of “thought” and whether there is a point in life where a person has thought enough. There is also some discussion of composing pieces with very particular challenges (e.g. a one-finger guitar piece).

Part 3 (43:48):
The third and final conversation between John Cage and Morton Feldman was recorded at WBAI in New York in October 1967. Cage and Feldman’s discussion begins with Cage reading part of an article by the architect Kaufman on disposability. Cage seems fascinated by the idea that the large and small scale is becoming ever more prominent in society, while the importance of the mid-scale is dwindling. Some serious debate ensues when Cage expresses the opinion that we already have quality in the world, and what we are truly seeking is quantity. The two also touch on the role of artists in reaction to the Vietnam War, and how musicians seem frequently absent from the political dialogue. The conversation ends with Cage hypothesizing that the printing press changed the course of life activity toward material gain.