1912 (Los Angeles, California)
1992 (New York City)
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|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|John Milton Cage Jr. was an American composer, music theorist, writer, and artist. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electro-acoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde. Critics have lauded him as one of the most influential American composers of the 20th century. He was also instrumental in the development of modern dance, mostly through his association with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was also Cage's romantic partner for most of their lives.|
Although Cage was most noted for his musical compositions, he was also an artist who did drawings, collage, painting, printmaking, assemblage and performance art. He started painting in his youth but he gave it up in order to
concentrate on music instead. His first mature visual project, Not
Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel, dates from 1969. The work
comprises two lithographs and a group of what Cage called plexigrams:
silk screen printing on plexiglas panels. The panels and the lithographs
all consist of bits and pieces of words in different typefaces, all
governed by chance operations.
From 1978 to his death Cage worked
at Crown Point Press, producing series of prints every year. The
earliest project completed there was the etching Score Without Parts
(1978), created from fully notated instructions, and based on various
combinations of drawings by Henry David Thoreau. This was followed, the
same year, by Seven Day Diary, which Cage drew with his eyes closed, but
which conformed to a strict structure developed using chance
operations. Finally, Thoreau's drawings informed the last works produced
in 1978, Signals.
Between 1979 and 1982, Cage produced a
number of large series of prints: Changes and Disappearances (1979–80),
On the Surface (1980–82), and Déreau (1982). These were the last works
in which he used engraving. In 1983 he started using various
unconventional materials such as cotton batting, foam, etc., and then
used stones and fire (Eninka, Variations, Ryoanji, etc.) to create his
visual works. In 1988–1990 he produced watercolors at the Mountain
Lake Workshop. The only film Cage produced was one of the Number Pieces,
One11, commissioned by composer and film director Henning Lohner who
worked with Cage to produce and direct the 90-minute monochrome film. It
was completed only weeks before his death in 1992. One11 consists
entirely of images of chance-determined play of electric light. It
premiered in Cologne, Germany, on September 19, 1992, accompanied by the
live performance of the orchestra piece 103.
Cage was born Sept. 5, 1912, at Good Samaritan Hospital in downtown Los Angeles. His father, John Milton Cage, Sr. (1886–1964), was an inventor, and his mother, Lucretia ("Crete") Harvey (1885–1969), worked intermittently as a journalist for the Los Angeles Times. The family's roots were deeply American: in a 1976 interview, Cage mentioned that George Washington was assisted by an ancestor named John Cage in the task of surveying the Colony of Virginia. Cage described his mother as a woman with "a sense of society" who was "never happy", while his father is perhaps best characterized by his inventions: sometimes idealistic, such as a diesel-fueled submarine that gave off exhaust bubbles, the senior Cage being uninterested in an undetectable submarine. John Milton Sr. taught his son that "if someone says 'can't' that shows you what to do." In 1944–45 Cage wrote two small character pieces dedicated to his parents: Crete and Dad. The latter is a short lively piece that ends abruptly, while "Crete" is a slightly longer, mostly melodic contrapuntal work.
Having enrolled and then dropped out of Pomona College at Claremont, California,
Cage persuaded his parents that a trip to Europe would be more beneficial than college studies. He subsequently hitchhiked to Galveston and sailed to Le Havre, where he took a train to Paris. Cage stayed in Europe for some 18 months, trying his hand at various forms of art. First he studied Gothic and Greek architecture, but decided he was not interested enough in architecture to dedicate his life to it. He then took up painting, poetry and music. It was in Europe that, encouraged by his teacher Lazare Levy,he first heard the music of contemporary composers (such as Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith) and finally got to know the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, which he had not experienced before.
Cage returned to the United States in 1931. He went to Santa Monica, California, where he made a living partly by giving small, private lectures on contemporary art. He got to know various important figures of the Southern California art world, such as pianist Richard Buhlig (who became his first teacher) and arts patron Galka Scheyer. By 1933 Cage decided to concentrate on music rather than painting.
At some point in 1934–35, during his studies with Schoenberg, Cage was working at his mother's arts and crafts shop, where he met artist Xenia Andreyevna Kashevaroff. She was an Alaskan-born daughter of a Russian priest; her work encompassed fine bookbinding, sculpture and collage. Although Cage was involved in relationships with Don Sample and with architect Rudolph Schindler's wife Pauline when he met Xenia, he fell in love immediately. Cage and Kashevaroff were married in the desert at Yuma, Arizona, on June 7, 1935.
The newly married couple first lived with Cage's parents in Pacific Palisades, then moved to Hollywood. During 1936–38 Cage changed numerous jobs, including one that started his lifelong association with modern dance: dance accompanist at UCLA. He produced music for choreographies and at one point taught a course on "Musical Accompaniments for Rhythmic Expression" at UCLA, with his aunt Phoebe. It was during that time that Cage first started experimenting with unorthodox instruments, such as household items, metal sheets, and so on. This was inspired by Oskar Fischinger, who told Cage that "everything in the world has a spirit that can be released through its sound." Although Cage did not share the idea of spirits, these words inspired him to begin exploring the sounds produced by hitting various non-musical objects.
In 1938, with help from a fellow Cowell student Lou Harrison, Cage became a faculty member at Mills College, teaching the same program as at UCLA, and collaborating with choreographer Marian van Tuyl. After several months he left and moved to Seattle, Washington, where he found work as composer and accompanist for choreographer Bonnie Bird at the Cornish College of the Arts. The Cornish School years proved to be a particularly important period in Cage's life including meeting a number of people who became lifelong friends, such as painter Mark Tobey and dancer Merce Cunningham. The latter was to become Cage's lifelong partner and collaborator.
Cage left Seattle in the summer of 1941 after the painter László Moholy-Nagy invited him to teach at the Chicago School of Design (what later became the IIT Institute of Design and finally the Illinois Institute of Technology). The composer accepted partly because he hoped to find opportunities in Chicago, that were not available in Seattle, to organize a center for experimental music. These opportunities did not materialize. Cage taught at the Chicago School of Design and worked as accompanist and composer at the University of Chicago.
In New York, the Cages first stayed with painter Max Ernst and Peggy Guggenheim. Through them, Cage met numerous important artists such as Piet Mondrian, André Breton, Jackson Pollock, Marcel Duchamp, and many others. Guggenheim was very supportive: the Cages could stay with her and Ernst for any length of time, and she offered to organize a concert of Cage's music at the opening of her gallery, which included paying for transportation of Cage's percussion instruments from Chicago. After she learned that Cage secured another concert, at the Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim withdrew all support, and, even after the ultimately successful MoMA concert, Cage was left homeless, unemployed and penniless. The commissions he hoped for did not happen.
He and Xenia spent the summer of 1942 with dancer Jean Erdman and her husband. Without the percussion instruments, Cage again turned to prepared piano, producing a substantial body of works for performances by various choreographers, including Merce Cunningham, who moved to New York City several years earlier. Cage and Cunningham eventually became romantically involved, and Cage's marriage, already breaking up during the early 1940s, ended in divorce in 1945. Cunningham remained Cage's partner for the rest of his life.
In the 1950s During this time John Cage was also teaching at the avant-garde Black Mountain College just outside of Asheville, NC. Cage taught at the college in the summers of 1948 and 1952 and was in residence the summer of 1953. While at Black Mountain College in 1952, he staged the first "Happening" in the United States, called Theatre Piece No. 1, a multi-layered performative event that changed modern theater completely. Cage collaborated with many of the other artists who were also at the college, including Merce Cunningham and fellow musician David Tudor.
When Cage reached age 80, his health had worsened progressively: he suffered not only from arthritis, but also from sciatica and arteriosclerosis. He suffered a stroke that left the movement of his left leg restricted, and, in 1985, broke an arm. During this time, Cage pursued a macrobiotic diet. Nevertheless, ever since arthritis started plaguing him, the composer was aware of his age, and, as biographer David Revill observed, "the fire which he began to incorporate in his visual work in 1985 is not only the fire he has set aside for so long—the fire of passion—but also fire as transitoriness and fragility." On August 11, 1992, while preparing evening tea for himself and Cunningham, Cage suffered another stroke. He was taken to the nearest hospital, where he died on the morning of August 12.
According to his wishes, Cage's body was cremated, and the ashes scattered in the Ramapo Mountains, near Stony Point, New York, the same place where Cage scattered the ashes of his parents, years before. The composer's death occurred only weeks before a celebration of his 80th birthday organized in Frankfurt by the composer Walter Zimmermann and the musicologist Stefan Schaedler was due to take place. The event went ahead as planned, including a performance of the Concert for Piano and Orchestra by David Tudor and Ensemble Modern.
"John Cage", Excerpts from Wikipedia, //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Cage (Accessed 11/18/2013)
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|John Milton Cage was an experimental music composer and writer, possibly best known (some might say notorious) for his piece 4' 33?, often described (somewhat erroneously) as "four and a half minutes of silence." He was an early writer of aleatoric music (music where some elements are left to chance), used instruments in non-standard ways and was an electronic music pioneer. |
Cage was born in Los Angeles. His father was a somewhat eccentric inventor of largely useless devices who told him "that if someone says 'can't' that shows you what to do." Cage described his mother as a woman with "a sense of society" who was "never happy." It was not obvious from his early life that he would become a composer; he was born into a Episcopalian family, and his paternal grandfather regarded the violin as the "instrument of the devil". Cage himself planned to become a minister at an early age and later a writer.
Although music was not clearly to be his chosen path, he did say later that he had unfocused desire to create, and his subsequent anti-establishment stance may be seen to have its roots in an incident while he was attending Pomona College.
Shocked to find a large number of students in the library reading the same set text, he rebelled and "went into the stacks and read the first book written by an author whose name began with Z. I received the highest grade in the class. That convinced me that the institution was not being run correctly." He dropped out in his second year and sailed to Europe, where he stayed for eighteen months. It was there that he wrote his first pieces of music, but upon hearing them he found he didn't like them, and he left them behind on his return to America.
He returned to California in 1931, his enthusiasm for America revived, he said, by reading Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. There he took lessons in composition from Richard Buhlig, Henry Cowell, Adolf Weiss, and, famously, Arnold Schoenberg whom he "literally worshiped." Schoenberg told Cage he would tutor him for free on the condition he "devoted his life to music." Cage readily agreed, but stopped lessons after two years when it became clear to him that he had "no feeling for harmony."
Cage began to experiment with percussion instruments and non-instruments and gradually came to replace harmony as the basis of his music with rhythm. More generally, he structured pieces according to the duration of sections. He saw a precedent in this in the music of Anton Webern to some extent, but especially in the music of Erik Satie, one of his favorite composers.
In the late 1930s, he went to the Cornish School of the Arts in Seattle, Washington. There he found work as an accompanist for dancers. He was asked to write some music to accompany a dance by Syvilla Fort called Bacchanale. He wanted to write a percussion piece, but there was no pit at the performance venue for a percussion ensemble and he had to write for a piano. While working on the piece, Cage experimented by placing a metal plate on top of the strings of the instrument. He liked the sound this produced, and this eventually led to his inventing the prepared piano, in which screws, bolts, strips of rubber and other objects are placed between the strings of the piano to change the character of the instrument. It is likely that he was influenced by his old teacher Henry Cowell who also treated the piano in a non-standard way, asking performers to strum the strings with their fingers, for example. The Sonatas and Interludes of 1946-48 are widely seen as his greatest work for prepared piano. Pierre Boulez was amongst its admirers, and organized the European premiere of the work. The two composers struck up a correspondence, but this stopped when they came to a disagreement over Cage's use of chance in his music.
It was also at Cornish that Cage founded a percussion orchestra for which he wrote his First Construction (In Metal) in 1939, a piece which uses metal percussion instruments to make a loud and rhythmic music. He also wrote the Imaginary Landscape No. 1 in that year, which uses record players as instruments, one of the first, if not the first, examples of this. Cage wrote a number of other Imaginary Landscape pieces in later years.
While at the Cornish School, Cage became interested in many things which informed much of his later work. He learned from Gira Sarabhai that "The purpose of music is to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences." This got him writing music again after a period of uncertainty about the value of trying to "express" anything through music. He became interested in Hinduism and Zen Buddhism, and met the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, who became his life partner and creative collaborator.
After leaving the Cornish School, Cage joined the faculty of the Chicago School of Design. While there he was asked to write a sound effects-based musical accompaniment for Kenneth Patchen's radio play The City Wears a Slouch Hat.
Cage then moved to New York City, but found it very hard to get work there. However, he continued to write music, and establish new musical contacts. He toured America with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company several times, and also toured Europe with the experimental pianist (and later composer) David Tudor, whom he worked with closely many other times.
Cage began to use the I Ching in the composition of his music in order to introduce an element of chance over which he would have no control. He used it, for example, in the Music of Changes for solo piano in 1951, to determine which notes should be used and when they should sound. He used chance in other ways as well; Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (1951) is written for twelve radio receivers. Each radio has two players, one to control the frequency the radio is tuned to, the other to control the volume level. Cage wrote very precise instructions in the score about how the performers should set their radios and change them over time, but he could not control the actual sound coming out of them, which was dependent on whatever radio shows were playing at that particular place and time of performance.
In 1948, Cage joined the faculty of the Black Mountain College, where he regularly worked on collaborations with Merce Cunningham. Around this time, Cage visited the anechoic chamber at Harvard University. An anechoic chamber is a room designed in such a way that the walls, ceiling and floor will absorb all sounds made in the room, rather than bouncing them back as echoes. They are also generally soundproofed. Cage entered the chamber expecting to hear silence, but as he wrote later, he "heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation." Whatever the truth of these explanations, Cage had gone to a place where he expected there to be no sound, and yet there was some. "Until I die there will be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music." The realisation as he saw it of the impossibility of silence led to the composition of his most notorious piece, 4' 33?.
Another cited influence for this piece came from the field of the visual arts. Cage's friend and Black Mountain colleague Robert Rauschenberg had, while working at the college, produced a series of 'white' paintings. These were apparently 'blank' canvases that, in fact, changed according to varying light conditions in the rooms in which they were hung, the shadows of people in the room and so on. These paintings inspired Cage to use a similar idea, using the 'silence' of the piece as an 'aural blank canvas' to reflect the dynamic flux of ambient sounds surrounding each performance.
The premiere of the three-movement 4' 33? was given by David Tudor on August 29, 1952, at Woodstock, New York as part of a recital of contemporary piano music. The audience saw him sit at the piano, and lift the lid of the piano. Some time later, without having played any notes, he closed the lid. A while after that, again having played nothing, he lifted the lid. And after a period of time, he closed the lid once more and rose from the piano. The piece had passed without a note being played, in fact without Tudor or anyone else on stage having made any deliberate sound, although he timed the lengths on a stopwatch while turning the pages of the score.
Richard Kostelanetz suggests that the very fact that Tudor, a man known for championing experimental music, was the performer, and that Cage, a man known for introducing unexpected non-musical noise into his work, was the composer, would have led the audience to expect unexpected sounds. Anybody listening intently would have heard them: while nobody produces sound deliberately, there will nonetheless be sounds in the concert hall (just as there were sounds in the anechoic chamber at Harvard). It is these sounds, unpredictable and unintentional, that are to be regarded as constituting the music in this piece. The piece remains controversial to this day, and is seen as challenging the very definition of music.
4' 33? has been recorded on several occasions, one version being "performed" by Frank Zappa (part of A Chance Operation: The John Cage Tribute, on the Koch label, 1993). An 'orchestral' version of 4' 33? given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in January 2004.
John Cage died in New York City on August 12, 1992.
"John Cage Biography", biographybase, //www.biographybase.com/biography/Cage_John.html
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