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The nature of the contribution to the development of the performance tradition - John Cage.

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Introduction

The nature of the contribution to the development of the performance tradition- John Cage American composer John Cage had a profound influence on avant-garde music and dance. He was born on 5th September 1912 in Los Angeles, California and died in New York City on 12th August 1992. Cage's work has had a stimulating effect on 20th century music and art. He is recognised as the inventor and leading figure in the field of indeterminate composition by means of chance operations. John Cage's idea of composing chance music was not by choice; his ideas were inspired by Eastern Philosophy, especially Zen Buddhism. Its influence was so deep on Cage that many say he was more of a philosopher than a composer. He intended to capture everyday noises as musical instruments. Sound and nature, which were closely related to each other in Cage's context, fascinated him. He expressed is views on music in his manifesto 'The Future of Music'. This portrayed what Cage believed: that any sound or noise we hear is music and therefore the differences between life and art should be eliminated. "Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating. The sound of a truck at 50mph. Static between the stations. Rain. We want to capture and control these sounds, to use them, not as sound effects, but as musical instruments." ...read more.

Middle

Another major source of influence for John Cage was I Ching. Also known as The Book of Changes originated in China around 256 B.C, it was used to predict the future by tossing sticks or throwing coins. It went on to become a book of philosophy instead of a fortune-teller's manual; which would have suited Cage as he, as I mentioned earlier, came across as quite a philosophical person. This brought about Cage's Music of Changes (1951), which was based on unpredictable outcomes in his music. "My recent work (Imaginary Landscape No. IV for twelve radios and the 'Music of Changes' for piano) is structurally similar to my earlier work: based on a number of measures having a square root, so that the large lengths have the same relation within the whole that the small lengths have within a unit of it. Formerly, however, these lengths were time-lengths, whereas in the recent work the lengths exist only in space, the speed of travel through this space being unpredictable." (Cage, 1960:57) He started writing for ensembles of percussion instruments; this was a genre which few composers had explored before. He used a variety of random or chance processes to determine the content and structure of a piece of music. Some of these involved improvisation by the performers. "The thing about John is that nothing stopped him. He was constantly working on pieces and bringing them to fruition...With the invention of the prepared piano, he could produce the sound of a small orchestra from a single instrument." ...read more.

Conclusion

Something that doesn't speak or talk like a human being, that doesn't know its definition in the dictionary or its theory in the schools, that expresses itself simply by the fact of its vibrations. People paying attention to vibratory activity, not in reaction to a fixed ideal performance, but each time attentively to how it happens to be this time, not necessarily two times the same. A music that transports the listener to the moment where he is." ('John Cage- An Autobiographical Statement') A modern day comparison is the music and dance of the touring performance 'STOMP'. STOMP is about rhythm, which is common to all cultures. STOMP is a group of people who perform around the world, with very strong personalities, who use everyday objects combined with their individual improvisations to create original music and dance. This is a very similar method to Cage's Untitled Event, performers using everyday objects and images, and more importantly their personal improvisations. (Performers in 'STOMP' using dustbin lids as instruments, taken from http://www.stomp.co.uk) Nine years after his death, the memory of John Cage most certainly lives on. "In 1949 Cage received a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Award from the National Academy of Arts and Letters for having extended the boundaries of music through his work with percussion orchestra and his invention of the prepared piano. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1978, and to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1988. ...read more.

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