American Mavericks

John Cage

(b. Los Angeles, California, September 5, 1912; d. New York City, August 12, 1992)

As a young man John Cage left college to study music, art, and architecture in Europe. He painted and wrote poetry. He studied with Henry Cowell and Arnold Schoenberg before working as a dance accompanist in Seattle. There he began experimenting with percussion, found objects, and electronic instruments.

Cage was a man who asked questions. What are we doing here? What are our expectations? Eager to eliminate subjectivity in composition, he went to the I Ching and threw coins to plan his pieces. With works such as the 1952 4’33” – four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence “played” by a pianist merely sitting at a keyboard while the audience’s coughs and whispers became the piece – he made listeners re-examine their assumptions.

During the last forty years of his life his music was almost as much about philosophy and epistemology as it was about sound, and he outlined his principles in his influential book Silence (1961). To him, all sounds were music, and he attempted to break down the barriers between life and art.

Pianist Margaret Leng Tan Discusses John Cage

Interviews from the “American Mavericks” series (c) (p) American Mavericks Public Media. Used with permission. All rights reserved.