Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Random Thoughts.

Every time I listen to Cage or think about his musical concepts, more and more questions pop into my head. It actually gets to be quite irritating, but I think that was his point. It was never about creating great musical pieces, but more about the ideas behind them. He wanted to get people thinking beyond what was considered normal or expected. Cage was much more a philosopher than a composer in my opinion, but he nevertheless paved the way for many artists to use his experimentation with our perception of "music" as a means to create amazing works. I can't say I agree with all of his theories, or that I even really like a lot of his music, but I can appreciate what he was trying to do. Some of what he says is/was very provocative in a musical standpoint, but once I go past my initial reaction to disagree, I've found he actually has a lot to say, and he said it. 
Some of the things that bothered me, or I just didn't understand were his ideas about what the purpose of music is. I don't agree that all music is about opening one's mind. I think a lot of it is, but a lot of it is also just about feeling a connection. For me, writing songs is about expression, and yes, often through that expression I am opening myself up to new ideas and concepts about my own life, but that doesn't undermine the fact that it is expressing myself. For a listener it's different. It is more about what you can get out of the piece, but I still disagree that the emotion isn't a huge part of that. I understand that Cage isn't completely disregarding the emotion involved in music, but he seems to put it aside as a lesser factor or just a side effect. Another thing I can't fully grasp is his idea of getting rid of your own tastes and preferences. To an extent, I can see where you have to be open to new ideas and sounds to ever fully appreciate music as a whole, but your preferences are what makes you an individual. If we got rid of all individuality what would be left? There would be no experimentation, no exploration in music or anything. We would just be. 
Cage  seems to take an extreme view of a lot of things. I like that he tended to push towards the opposite side of what was pleasant or expected, but often he went a little too far. For example, when he stated Beethoven was wrong about the way music should be written, I agreed with him. He then went on to express just another way music "should be written", which kind of contradicts what he said earlier. I don't think there is a set way to write music. I personally write it as it comes to me, the way Cage described it, but for others that is not the case, and It is much more structured and with a definite goal in mind. He described nature as full of "random playfulness" which, once again, can be true. However, there are also definite patterns and structure as well. He completely disregards harmony, and pushes constantly for dissonance or clashing sounds. His reliance on randomness is a little annoying along with his idea that art has nothing to do with the artist. I simply disagree. 
Surprisingly enough, I actually can relate to some of his theories. I like the idea of changing your mind, and being open enough to do so with something as seemingly simple as 4'33". His idea that our age is the "age of noise" and we are inflicting an "assault against silence" I definitely agree with. So many of us have become so dependent on our constant connection with cell phones and ipods ( I must confess I am guilty of this too), that we are actually isolating ourselves from any deeper communication with those around us. Have we ruined it though? I don't think so, but it definitely takes more effort to find the silence and to enjoy it. Our world is so fast pace, that to take time to just listen is an alien thought and experience. I'm not sure the answer to all things that are boring is to do it longer, but I can understand giving things their fair chance.
  Another concept I can relate to is that of not really having a specific goal or point to reach with music. I find it very hard to finish anything I start, because it is often a reflection of a thought or feeling which never really have conclusions in my opinion. If we are truly open, then the song will never truly end. Cage makes me think. He makes me question my own opinions of listening to music, listening to the world around me, writing music, and just about how to approach life in general, and for this, he has my greatest respect. 

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