Saturday, May 8, 2010

No Such Thing as Silence

I just finished Kyle Gann's recent book on Cage's 4'33", a book which does a lovely job contextualizing this seminal work, detailing its appearance at an inflection point in the history of western art music, its place in Cage's personal journey as an artist, the philosophical backdrop which Cage (mis)interpreted, and Kyle's own experiences with the piece. It's lovely and highly recommended, especially for those who may not know Cage's work so well, have heard the jokes but want to get past them. Much of the material of the book I knew already quite intimately since I, like Kyle, composers of a certain age, grew up in the world that was framed by this work, in the world where one ran into Mr. Cage, his smile and his soft voice, here and there. We listened to his works, we read Silence and his other books, we wore out our Folkways vinyl of Indeterminacy: New Aspect of Form in Instrumental and Electronic Music, memorizing the stories and wishing our lives would someday produce stories as intriguing, and hoping that, when the time came where it was needed, we would find the strength to face down the world and hold to our convictions. (By the way, one of my favorites is the one about the customs officer and the cigarettes.)

It's interesting that, even though so much came out of the work - its legacy is well detailed in the book - that very little of the long sound-filled-silences that appeared in his pieces and culminated in the 4'33" are found in the works of others after it.  I remember sneaking off and playing Experiences No. 1 with Robert Erickson (this Robert) in my college days, over and over, counting out those seemingly long measures, thinking that this was something important, the pregnant expectation of where the next sound would occur. I guess that silence, like the prepared piano, seemed so Cagean that no one else could take it on without feeling plagiaristic, or maybe that four-thirty-three had put paid to it. Since we can all play the piece anytime, I'll end with another of Cage's prettier works, Sonta V:

1 comment:

Leo said...

This reminds me of Balinese gamelan music

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