Monday, September 29, 2008

Easy to say, hard to mean, impossible to prove

Whats wrong with a little bull shit? I mean how often do you say something you mean a 100%. How often do people say, "I'm starving" or "I could eat a horse" when they are just hungry. Exaggerations are part of our culture and one of the easiest things to exaggerate are our feelings for other people. Have you ever thought things like, "I care for that person so much I would take a bullet for them", but given the situation of someone pointing a gun at that person would you really be able to sacrifice your life to save theirs. Its easy to say that. The same principles apply to our expression of love. I believe those three little words "I love you" have been tossed around to the point they are next to meaningless. Have you ever told someone you loved them and not really meant it. I have and if you really think about it you probally have too. If you really love someone world would be a much smaller and more sad place without them. Its someone you miss after not seeing them a couple days and when you do get to see them again your so happy you get to hang out with them and you dread having to leave them again. Its someone you would trust no matter what. Its someone you really would take a bullet for. You can love in varying degrees but I think to truely 100% love someone you need all theses things. In this sense I really only truely love four people. Now if you only told people who you truely 100% loved that you loved them then a lot less people would hear "I love you", and thats not really a good thing. Even though you don't mean it to the fullest extent of the word love doesn't mean you shouldn't say it. You may be bull shitting your feelings a little the world would a boring and lonely place without people bull shitting about love. Its nice to hear that someone loves you and its even better to hear a ridiculous exaggeration of someone's love for you, like "I love you so much I would walk a thousand miles just to be with you". But in the end telling someone those 3 simple words "I love you" is easy to say, hard to mean, and almost impossible to prove.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

On Love

During our discussion on love songs, I had two recurring thoughts. The first was that I had incredible trouble thinking of a love song that wasn't about breaking up or falling in love, but somewhere in the middle. All the intense emotions are in the beginning and the end of a relationship--this is where all rationality is thrown out the window and the floodgates are opened full-blast. From the feelings of total devotion and desire, to heartbreak (which i always thought was a very idiotic way of putting the pain of separation, or however you want to phrase it), only the most turbulent times in a relationship are written about. Most likely this is because we don't really pay attention to our emotions until there is a sudden change. A relationship just starting off is full of energy and so high-strung on emotion that lyrics like, "I would cross the ocean just to see your face," make perfect sense and are completely plausible until an objective viewer actually asks the person in question, "Would you? Really?" Because, of course, nobody thinks straight when they're falling in love. The same is true for breakup songs. Feelings are raw and exposed and throbbing with hurt. People write about it to release all the pent-up energy created from the emotions, and more listen because everybody can relate. I don't think there's any BS in either form of these two main forms of love songs, because as long as the artist is writing from feeling alone and not based on what he thinks people want to hear, what is said is exactly what was felt at the time. Sure, he won't really cross an entire ocean, but he won't realize how illogical that is until somebody else points it out to him. So maybe she won't curl up and die because her man left her, but she feels like she might at any minute. Because they truly believe what they're writing is true, it isn't complete bull, it's just lacking in logical thinking.

That turns into a completely different matter once emotions are settled, and everybody stops singing love songs because, yes, they're in love, but the whole thing's under control now and they don't need a song to release pent-up emotions. On top of that, it's pretty difficult to imagine a million songs all about how things are going swimmingly for a couple who have been together for quite some time. I've heard songs out there--for instance, "Dear Bobbie," by Yellowcard, is about an old man writing a love letter to his wife--but there's a reason there aren't too many songs in the 'middle stage' of a relationship. They're boring. Emotions aren't running high, so there's not too much to say.

The other thing I kept thinking of was a song that I think is a complete exception to everything we talked about with love songs. I may be completely wrong, but to me this song is about falling in love and keeping your head about it. The song is called, "On Love, In Sadness," by Jason Mraz, and the lyrics imply that the man is falling in love, but realizes the world is still exactly the same as it was before; as opposed to most people falling in love, who insist there is no sorrow, hardship, or darkness of any kind in the world anymore, he says in passing, "inevitably, well, it still exists/ pain, and fine, I can't dismiss/ and I won't resist/ and if I die, well at least I tried." I loved this song when I first heard it because the one thing I don't like about love songs is how they are all either denying any darkness in the world, or only seeing the sorrow of everything. This song is somewhere in the middle, completely levelheaded but still emotional. It's about people falling in love (or lust, as the song states in the chorus...isn't lust a very big contribution to the beginnings of love?) while bearing in mind the sad state of things around them. I just found it interesting how many times I was reminded of this song during our discussion.

Love Song Discussion I Missed

Apparently I missed a very interesting discussion in class on Friday, but it is kind of ironic. While I was at the tournament, my dad went driving around and found a yard sale. He bought me this Bob Dylan and the Greatful Dead cd. I never knew they had a concert together, but it was interesting that once I was listening to it, I read that you guys had a discussion about him in class while I was gone.
I agree with some of you that some love songs now are not as sincere. They only are singing it because it is what people want to hear or because it sounds good. I also agree that there are still some of them that have quite a bit of truth in them and they do not always have to be a certain style of music. I think Bob Dylan's songs are very sincere. He shows us all of the emotions associated with love including the pain and longing that is involved in his relationships. He may not have songs with many lyrics, or they may be repetitive, but they show a great deal of emotion in those few words. He may not be the most popular artist, but if you listen to him you can tell that he truly does feel the emotions he is trying to portray to his listeners, and he eventually evokes those feelings or ones like those feelings in his listeners whether they realize it or not. He takes those intense feelings and puts them into songs like quite a few musicians try but never can do that well.
I only like a few of his songs, because I have only listened to a few of them. But, the ones I like, do bring out lots of emotions in the songs. I tend to like music that I can relate to in some way or another. His music was introduced to me because my dad listened to oldies. Knockin on Heaven's Door came on the radio one day and at first I did not get the point. But, after I started thinking more and more about it, the more I started liking the song because of the emotions brought out in it. It may take a little longer to start liking his music because it is not what I typically listen to, but eventually I started liking more and more of his songs, as long as I gave them a chance. They may not be very long and may have a lot of chorus lines, but they mean quite a bit in those few lines. His songs make you think and figure out ways to relate to them, when sometimes you would never do that for any other reason.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Love? I have no idea what that means.

Where does a cliche come from? I mean, at some point, it wasn't cliche to write a love poem or song describing the beauty of a woman or the feats one would do to obtain her. Now, however, we hear one line like, Your eyes are as bright as the moon, and we automatically think "bullshit". Why is that? If you've read any Shakespeare, you'll know what I'm talking about. His plays and sonnets are filled with what we would now consider cliches but that wasn't the case when he wrote them, so what has changed? I think a lot of it has to do with how much it is copied, or used afterwards. If so many people didn't relate to love songs, then their wouldn't be such repetitiveness among so many of them. They become bullshitty for us, when we feel like we've heard it before, when we feel like the person isn't being sincere because they aren't having original thoughts and feelings to express themselves. But in all fairness, Love is not an original idea. Yes, there are many forms to it and it is different in some ways for everyone, but there still remains underlying factors of Love. 
I think another reason we tend to label love songs as fake or unreal, is because we may not have experienced that yet in our lives. It's hard for me to understand someone pledging their life's devotion, because I am nowhere near ready for a commitment like that in my own life. So when I hear someone singing about it, especially when the singer is my age or younger, it's unbelievably hard to accept as sincere. That doesn't make it bullshit though. I'm not saying there aren't love songs that are complete b.s., but i don't think as a whole they are. Just because someone is elaborating on a feeling they have for another person doesn't make it any less true. They may add fancy phrasing, but that only means they put more thought into it than in some everyday occurance. In all honesty, I think taking time to describe in acute detail how or what you feel makes those songs more real,more true. 
Love is complicated, and yet simple sometimes. It's beautiful, painful, difficult, joyous, exhilerating, and a billion other things. So how could we call anyone a bullshitter when writing about it. Almost anything applies, and for that person it may be completely different or very very similar to others' experiences with love. 

Love Songs

I guess I am too much of a romantic to think that all love songs are simply bullshit. Like I said in class, so many love songs are full of so many over exaggerations that we all know are not really true. But some of them, as Bob Dylan's songs, I thought, proved to us, are filled with truth. Metaphorical, symbolic, truth, but truth nonetheless. His songs were not filled with silly, over-the-moon in love, professing all the grand deeds you will do for your significant other bull. I thought Bob Dylan's songs, however, had a sincerity that I think many love songs do have.
Many of these songs that lack the worst of this love BS are usually accompanied with, as Bob Dylan's are, a certain amount of the misery that goes along with the joy of being in love. This kind of complexity of pain makes the whole being in love thing more realistic and thus much more believable. And, I think, a whole lot more boring. "I'd climb the highest mountain for you" is a lot more interesting than "I'd hang out with you"; but neither are as interesting as a love song by Muse that includes the line "You will suck the life out of me". Not only is this more true to life, but it also holds an intensity that songs full of only pure joy usually lack. Muse tends to hit listeners over the head with the intensity of their songs, but I liked how Bob Dylan did not do this. His poetic lyrics and simple, roughsound conveyed all the intensity in a simple manner that made his feelings more realistic than ever. It's like real life: most people don't even know what kind of intense emotions may been simmering underneath the surface, but they are there, nonetheless. In the same way, the emotions of Bob Dylan's songs, simmer underneath the surface of his much less than grand music.
I have to admit, usually like grander, more intense music. I like music that makes me feel something--that is usually how I determine whether or not I like a song. I like music that brings out in me some emotion that I have myself but wasn't currently using. This class has dared me to try to like music that does not do this. John Cage hated this idea, thinking that such music forced emotions on you. I do not think this is quite true, nothing can force us, make us feel anything that we do not. Some things can simply help us draw out certain emotins, based on which experiences of our own they help us relate to. But, I think there is also something to be said for music that is not so... what Cage would probably call emotionally pushy. These songs, I think, take more time to get into, but sometimes they end up meaning more to us than songs which we understand and relate to isntantly.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dylan vs. Cage

I thought the love song discussion in class today was interesting, and it was weird having so many people in the room. Seriously, we usually have only like ten people, and all of a sudden we had about twenty-five. It changed the feel of the class.

I honestly think that some people need to learn the difference between B.S. and hyperbole. Hyperbole is a pretty common part of language (I’m starving, I need a drink). I’m honestly not sure how productive it is to go around listening to love songs (because we all know how calm, rational, and levelheaded people in love are, don’t we) and finding the hyperbole in them—it’s not exactly hard, and also kinda misses the whole point of the song. Not that I want to criticize whoever teaches that other FYS, but still.

As for the Bob Dylan songs, I thought they were interesting. I can’t say I listen to much Dylan—I enjoyed the songs we listened to today, but I can’t say I’m rushing out to download more of them. I think that Dylan is somewhat overrated—he is undeniably talented, but I think that some of his “poetic” and “voice of a generation” attributes are overrated. (If he had had all that big an impact on his generation, I doubt that his listeners would have all gone out and become yuppies—I’m pretty sure he wasn’t a big fan of that sort of thing).

But still, Dylan was talented, and as I said, I enjoyed his music. One thing I noticed was the difference between his stuff and modern music—regardless of genre, it seems (at least to me; maybe I’m wrong) that most modern music follows a strict formula—beginning stanza, chorus, middle stanza, chorus, optional ending stanza, chorus. The chorus seems to be the most important part of the song. Dylan didn’t do that, and I like that.

Dylan is, in many ways—that anti-John Cage. Cage’s music didn’t always make sense because he tried to strip away all emotion and feeling. Dylan’s music doesn’t always make sense (what exactly happened in the “come in from the storm” song? And could anyone quite follow the “turn of fate”track?), but his imagery—even if it doesn’t quite make sense—serves primarily to create a mood, an emotion. That’s why I think that Bob Dylan was a talented artist—while John Cage was a pretentious and unnecessary musician.

me rambling again

I enjoyed the conversation about B.S. in love music. I found it to be a very interesting topic. I agree that most love music is filled with B.S. Many of these are, however, are just exaggerations used to prove a point, and part of me thinks that that shouldn’t count as B.S. What’s the difference between telling someone that you’re always thinking of them or you’re thinking of them most of time. Heck, we do that in our daily lives. A man doesn’t tell his girlfriend that he thinks of her most of the time, he tells her that it’s all the time. If he only said most of, it wouldn’t be taken as much of a compliment.

They can also be given as examples or as “if I could, I would”s. Some of the examples may be physically impossible (an “if I could, I would”) or others may be implicit and could imply other things as well. The examples could be used symbolically and that’s not really B.S.-ing. Such as the lyrics “I would climb any mountain, sail across a stormy sea…” Now maybe that person would be willing to take those risks, full well knowing that he may fail (and probably die), but it is used not only to mean that he’s willing to give his life for this person, but also that he would do anything that he possibly could for her. Also, obviously this person can’t physically climb any mountain. I doubt he would reach the top of Everest, and on top of that there are Hundreds of underwater ones, some taller than Everest, which presents the problem of being able to breath. This person says I would, though, which would mean that if he could do this then he would, but the task is simply impossible.

All that I’m trying to say is that while these songs are filled with “B.S.” it can be used for other reasons than to simply make the song interesting, and I don’t think that some of them are filled with B.S. because they use “qualifiers” such as I would. Meaning that I can’t, I’m unable to, but if I was then I would. They can also be used as literary devices such as allusions, metaphors, and symbols and aren’t supposed to be taken literally which would kind of mean that they aren’t B.S.

Cage on Education

Here are a few Cage quotes you might enjoy related to the theme of education. All are taken from Richard Kostelanetz's Conversing with Cage.

"The reason I dropped out of college was because I was absolutely horrified by being in a class which had, say, two hundred members, and an assignment being given to all two hundred people to read the same book. I thought that if everyone read the same book, it was a waste of people. It was sufficient for one person to read the book and then somehow through that person, if the book had anything in it, everyone could get it, by talking with the person who had read the book. But to look at those desks with everybody reading the same book, that struck me with horror, so I marched away and went into the stacks of the library. I read books as irrelevant to the subject as I could find; and when the questions were given for the examination, I got an A. I thought there was something wrong with that system, so I dropped out of college."

Cage as a Teacher

"And the first thing I announced was that everyone in the class would get an A because I am opposed to the grading in schools. Well, when this news got around the campus the size of the class increased to 120 people who all wanted to have A's. Gradually, it settled down to about 80 people who came to my class all the time. But even those who just came and registered got an A. My first talk to them explained my point of view. And that included the fact that we didn't know what we were studying. That this was a class in we didn't know what. And in order to make that clear that we would subject the entire library to chance operations, to the I Ching, and each person in the class would read, say, five books or parts of five books, if the books were too long, and the I Ching could tell them which part to read. And in that way we would all have, I thought and they agreed, something to give one another. Whereas if we did as other classes do and all read the same book and knew what we were doing , then we could only be in the position of competing with one another to see which one understood the most. Whereas in this other class we all became generous to one another, and the conversations were unpredictable."

Time Management

"This (having schedules) must be refused. Anything that represents a continuity from one thing to the next should be changed to something that represents flexibility from one day to the next. Anything resembling an interruption, a distraction, should be welcomed. Why? Because we will realize that by these interruptions and distractions and flexibilities we enrich the brushing of information against information... "

Over the course of this seminar, I've come to acknowledge that there is a very blurred line between what we see as noise and define as music, but the more the line is blurred, the more a realize the secret that lies behind distinguishing one from the other. This secret appears to be the difference between hearing and listening.
We hear sounds as noise. An action occurs, vibrations are made and they reach our ear. We heard and interperate the phenomena as noise. However, the vibrations that strike the ear and resonate as music are no different from the vibrations hitting our ear every day of our lives. There's the blurred line. Now, the true difference lies not in interpretation of the vibrations, as one might think, but in the approach to the vibrations ( yes, crazy, but stay with me here). When sounds are simply heard, they are noises, but when they are listened to, when one devotes attention into an active state of listening, those vibrations can become music. One cannot be passive and hear music, as the same principal can be applied in the reverse. If Mozart plays in the background and you only hear it, then it cannot be music at that moment. Sure, you may identify it as a composition by Mozart, but anyone who has tried to take a calculus test with Mozart pounding on the piano in the background can attest to the fact that -at that point, at least- the "music" playing is only noise. To be appreciated as music, Mozart's piece must be actively engaged in, with attention turned to it. In the same way, birdsong, cicadas, or the sound of traffic can be disregarded as noise or given a moment to be listened to. In this way, they have the potential to be music too.
Now, furniture music is interesting because it seems to intentionally take on both functions at once. Its first function is to blend, to be just another humming noise in the room. It blends into the background as, well, furniture, of course. And, though intentionally not invasive or disruptive, it is serving as noise in this respect. However, when there's a lull in the conversation or your partner's left you to go get some cheese and crackers, you've something readily available to turn your attention to and regard as interesting and enjoyable music. It's with this sort of music that the "on" and "off" switches of hearing an listening can be most readily recognized and put to use, and the versatility of furniture music to function on as sound and then as true music, observed.
Sounds are heard, but music is listened to.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Creature of Habit

I’ve come to wonder what Cage thought about soundless movies. Most likely he would take the stance that soundless movies are a blank canvas and it is up to the imagination of each viewer to come up with a personal, internal soundtrack. Watching a soundless movie would be quite an experience, but it would really show you how much movies need emotional music in order to get across the full effect. Think about it. Have you ever rented a horror film, gotten to a scary scene and quickly turned down the volume out of fear? Well, I have and what I realized is the great suspense of a horror film is completely diminished when the sound is turned off.
In class we have talked about how Cage wrote music with emotion in his early years of composing, but then moved on to music created by chance operation in order to remove these preconceived biases. I believe that, yes, it is nice to listen to soundscapes and such for relaxing, but the reason humans of today favor organized sound is because we are creatures of habit. Starting from toddler years, we watch the Disney movies which are filled with feelings of romanticism, despair, and happiness. Similar to the in-class discussion we had of Sim’s book, we are “programmed” since we were young to like certain forms of music. Being creatures of habit we expect to hear certain sounds and music depending on the mood of a situation.
Most humans do not prefer to hear random sounds as music because humans in general are not random. If we drop something, we’re expecting the crash, and if we press a key on the piano we’re expecting to hear that note. John Cage’s music can sometimes almost be abrasive to the ear in the sense that it has loud random noises that humans have never heard grouped together before. This “breaks the mold” and our ears want that normality back. So back to silent movies, the reason why they have “died out” is because people like hearing corresponding, organized sounds.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A thoughtless nation

Despite all of the opposition to the “Manifesto for Silence”, I want to defend part of it. What really made sense to me was the fact that there are people and businesses out there that try to keep us from thinking for ourselves. Music isn’t the only weapon used in this battle, and I do believe that it’s role is greatly exaggerated. As a matter of fact just about everything technological or not is used to these people’s advantage. I think music is used as a paradigm for all these others, and is highly metaphorical. This is due to the fact that everyone equates quite with concentration and noise with the lack of it. I’m sure everyone’s mom or dad has yelled at them to quite down because they had to work. It’s an easy and subtle metaphor. But the point is that there are people out there who don’t want us to think for ourselves, and they’re succeeding.

All to often, People buy things they don’t need, they engage in fierce debates over trivial or non-existent issues, and they don’t stop to think. These people are over engaged with everything in today’s age, and they simply don’t have time for thought if they want to keep up with face book, my space, you tube, television, radio, etc. So they hear and see ads on these entertainment spots and, depending on who they trust, they either reject this notion or item or accept it. Who they trust could realm from between different politicians to between doctor and food industry. This is exactly what so many businesses and every political party wants. They want us to blindly follow them and to just do what were told, and each year one of them decides to push the limit and finds another way to get us to blindly follow them over some “revolutionary” “idea” or “understanding”. They lie to us so often and nobody stops to think long enough to even realize that something doesn’t seem right. Although, this is the big businesses’ and political parties’ paradise, mindless peons that do whatever they’re told. This also accounts for the reason why everyone blames all of theirs trouble on everyone, but themselves. I wonder what our country or even world would be like if more people took the time to think.

Sound apolocolypse?!?

I'm getting a little tired of the extremist points of view that keep arising when discussing Cage and his ideas/theories on music and silence. I don't think cell phones are the end of the world, I don't think sharing our music with those arround us is a personal attack, and I don't think people should be overly concerned with our "loss" of silence. The truth is, the soundscape is just changing, it isn't being destroyed. People are noisy. We have been from our beginning. What sounds we make and how we make them have changed,but even before cell phones, there were plenty of interruptions in libraries and other public places. If we were to take on a true Cagean philosophy of how it is changing we would just accept the sounds of text messaging as part of the soundscape, being no better or worse than the other sounds. Personally, I would prefer not to hear constant sounds from cell phones, but that is my taste, which Cage would encourage me to neglect.

Furthermore, I feel there is a big difference between experiencing silence and just having quiet. I do agree that silence and thought are linked, but I also feel that just because someone is in silence doesn't mean that thought is provoked. Some people may find the silence distracting, possibly causing them to think about too many things at once, or just nothing. In reference to the passage about psychiatry/counseling, I feel that silence isn't necessarily what helps the patient. It is rather that they have the oppertunity to think things out. Many people, including myself, think better when speaking. It's a way to organize thought, rather than have them float around in my head. In that way, complete silence is not good, for I am making noise in order to think clearly. Personally, I think disrupting the silence can in turn create a silence on the inside. By speaking out loud, and projecting some of our inner quarrels/thoughts we can achieve a quiet of the mind, therefore making more of a silence for ourselves. In a way, by composing music or expressing ourselves in any way creates that inner silence. So technically we have all made some version of 4'33". Perhaps if people would talk to themselves more, then we could avoid emotional breakdowns and other potentially harmful episodes that come from a lack of expression.

I would also like to address, more specifically the attack on cell phones. I do not, nor have I ever owned a cell phone, so I feel my opinion might be quite different than others. Sometimes it is a blessing to have that sense of freedom, by not constantly being "on call". However, I have been in a number of situations where a cell phone would have been very helpful. I think people who have them, or are simply given them by their parents, take for granted the benefits of a cell phone sometimes. I know that I would not use one as often as others because I do appreciate my privacy and my time alone, but, for instance, when the car you're riding in on the highway breaks down in the middle of the night in a bad storm and you are seven miles from the nearest exit and you have to hitchhike through the pouring rain, well, then it would be nice to have. The truth is, if cell phones are the biggest threat to our humanity, then we are living in a blest world. Cell phones and instant messaging and facebook will not be the downfall of our communication skills. I have more faith in people than to believe that we are all so fragile that we will one day not be able to talk to people in person, because we are so dependent on hiding behind the mask that is our computer screen. Rather, I feel that our new technology gives us a way to connect, and it also poses a challenge for us to continue communication with one another. I would much rather talk to people in person than on a phone or on the computer, but sometimes that is just not possible, and so I use other means to form closer and consistent relationships. Also, people are going to be rude no matter what devices they have. It doesn't take a cell phone for people to not really be listening. I think that just depends on the person.

And so, I hate to burst your bubble, but it's not the end of the world. Noise has always been there and always will be. Silence isn't always golden (Sometimes it might be green or blue or red), though it often is. My point is, even though using sound as a weapon scares me, and even though I may not like all the "noise" created by new technology, I think we have bigger problems to deal with. If people really needed more quiet, then they would find a way to get it. If our soundscapes were really effecting us so harshly, then people wouldn't live in cities. It comes down to taste in those aspects, and what we are able to survive and adapt to. With tastes, we have to ignore them to an extent if we want to live at peace with our ever changing environment. That isn't to say that you should totally give up your independent thought or opinion, but just merely accept that not every sound you hear you will like, and that the sounds/music that you like is not, nor will it ever be, totally the same as someone else's. So please.....relax.
There has been a lot of talk lately, in things we have been reading and in what everyone has been saying, about the lack of silence exacerbating the problem of isolation among individuals. I have to say that I do not agree with this. I think music is at the very heart of human interaction. Music helps us connect to other people. Humans have a collective and innate understanding and pleasure for music. I think it would be unhealthy if a civilization was without music.
This being said, I know that, to put it as Penny did, a constant “plugging in” would be damaging for us all. If you’re constantly listening to music to the point that the singers on your iPod feel more real than the people around you, there is something wrong. But in my experience, most of us are not that bad yet. Starting college meant having to talk to a whole bunch of strangers all at one time. And I did not have the experience of not being able to say “Hi” because people had their iPods on. Yeah, people wear their head phones walking to class, while they’re in the Student Center and trying to study, but I still think most people like to socialize. And they know that it’s hard to talk to someone when they can’t hear over whatever is coming out of their headphones. I don’t think our society has degenerated to the point where we are unable to make friends with people in person before we make friends on Facebook. I think quite the reverse is true, actually, few people request to be friends on Facebook with someone they have never met in person. College has proved to me that our generation is still quite capable of human interaction.
I think my point is that it is very hard for me to buy into this end-of-the-world, on-the-edge-of-crisis feeling about noise that the Manifesto for Silence presented to us, because I have not experienced anything that seems so bad to me. It seems like he talks about noise as if its an alien force, something totally separate from normal human living. But all this extra noise is at the very heart of human living. It’s hard for me to see all this noise as anything more than life, than the very essence of thriving civilization. I do understand where this is coming from. I don’t like how people seem unable to handle or just uncomfortable with silence. I don’t like when people want to fill up their lives with things that will help them never have to think. But to me, these things still seem to be a choice. You can find times and places to think if you look for them. I don’t think the world has gotten so bad that it has taken away this choice.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fear of Silence

After our discussion in class on the “need for noise” in our society, I came to find other interesting instances that occur in our everyday lives. For example, everyone has at one time or another been told by some adult or teacher figure that they should try to eliminate the word “like” from their vocabulary. It is true that saying “like” all the time may make you sound like a “valley girl” or immature, but have you ever stopped to think about why and how that word has infiltrated our language and conversation.
The word “like” is a filler – it’s used to fill those uncomfortable pauses of silence that inevitably happen in everyday conversing. We as a society have become so dependent on having a constant noise or task to always hold our attention that once a brief pause of nothingness arises, we scramble to fill the void. This fear of silence tends to happen most in the presence of others. A good example is when the teacher asks a student a tough question. While the student is responding with her answer, she does not pause in a moment of silence to collect her thoughts instead she will sprinkle her answer with the word “like” in times when she needs time to think. Also as I mentioned in class, when a person is waiting on a ride or to meet up with a friend, he can’t just sit there and enjoy the silence. Instead, he will listen to his ipod or talk on his cell phone to fill the “empty” space.
Not only does this fear of silence occur in front of others, but it occurs when we’re alone. I notice this in myself in that I never just enjoy the ride and take in the scenery in silence. I always have to blast my radio, many times causing me to bypass things such as the beauty in nature. Companies are making millions off of unnecessary “noise boxes” such as shower radios. Do you really need to listen to music while you’re shampooing your hair? Our society has come to dislike silence and obsess over constant noises and fillers.

Once Again, I Can't Think of a Good Title.....

I still can't figure out how to open the podcast, and was going to write on that, but I guess now I can't and if anyone knows how to open it and would like to walk me through it...that would be amazing. But anyway....

In reading the pages from Manifesto for Silence, I really found it more interesting than any of the readings we've done so far. I think this was partially due to me being able to actually comprehend what I was reading. I really thought it was interesting how they're looking into using noise in the military. In a world where it's all about who's got the bigger and more destructive bomb, it's really interesting to know that something as simple as noise can be used to acheive the same effect without causing death. However, ear damage may not be such a good side's much better than killing people.
Another thing I found really interesting in the reading was the link between silence and healthcare. Being a nursing major, that type of stuff appeals to me as I will be able to use that knowledge in my profession later on. I would have figured listening to some kind of soothing, soft, calming music would be more relaxing than silence because silence can makes some people nervous. Through this reading I came to see I was wrong. The silence actually has a calming effect moreso than the slow, soft pieces of music. Hopefully when (and if) I'm a nurse, I'll remember this information and be able to use it sometime.
Although I wasn't able to listen to the podcast, it was said in class that Cage said something about enjoying listening to traffic. I can see where he would say this. The hum of the cars constantly passing is enough to lull someone to sleep or calm them down, much as soft music does. Even if you're right by the cars, you become accustomed to the sound of the cars and it all starts to get quieter and seemingly disappear and not be as loud...which I can imagine would be pretty relaxing.
Altogether, I think when you first hear some of the things Cage says, like him enjoying listening to traffic, it's easy to think he's crazy. But if you really think about it...he does make sense and his ideas are very easy to relate to.
Headphone Harold wore his headphones
Through the night and through the day
He said "I'd rather hear my music
than the dumb things people say."

In the city's honkin traffic,
He heard trumpets 'stead of trucks.
Down the quiet country backroads
He heard drums instead of ducks.

Through the patterin' springtime showers
He heard guitars instead of rain.
Down the track at the railroad crossin',
He heard the trombones--
not the train.
---Shel Silverstein, "Headphone Harold"

Sadly enough, the world today is filled with Headphone Harolds. Maybe people aren't getting hit by trains left and right, but the society as a whole has become more and more closed off, each person isolating themselves through music or the internet. We've stopped socializing, and the majority of our social interactions take place online or over the phone. Nobody pays attention to what is going on in the outside world when the iPod is out--even if a conversation is taking place, the headphones stay in the ears and continue to blast out music. I can't count the number of times I've tried talking to somebody who said, "What?...What?" but refused to turn off their music. The fact that we're choosing to isolate ourselves is very worring. More and more people are being treated for depression, the divorce rate is around 50%, and just about every person on the street is stressed out over something or other. Sure, there's many different contributing factors, but the general problem is that we've lost our ability to communicate. No, IMing and email and texting do not count. Something keeps us from speaking to each other in person anymore, and somehow we've fooled ourselves into thinking we can get to know somebody else through the text we read.
Nobody realizes that people can hide what they're feeling when they only know somebody online, or they can filter out aspects of themselves that might be unfavorable. My dad was telling us this weekend about a new person at work who had just moved from Mississippi to marry a girl he'd had an online relationship with and had only met once in person. For some reason, our culture has come to think anything natural is disturbing or unsettling--perhaps because we no longer know how to deal with anything we don't like. Headphone Harold can't stand dumb people, so he cuts himself off and suddenly becomes rather dumb himself. When we suddenly would rather listen to ourselves only, and filter out anything we'd rather not hear either by ignoring it or blocking it out with music, we suddenly forget how to function in a natural setting. As a whole, the society is at a disadvantage by closing off from the world. As our technological knowledge grows, our general and natural knowledge is dying. When a person isolates himself by music or any other technology, he becomes more close-minded. He suddenly knows no other opinions but his own; if another opinion comes along that disagrees with his, the person is instantly branded as stupid or insane. (As a simple example, look up any song on youtube and read the comments underneath--inevitably there will be several people berating one person who left a comment along the lines of, "so-and-so sucks!!! you people actually listen to this?!!!") By forgetting how to consider other's opinions, he is limiting his own knowledge by refusing to change himself. I do think this is a result of using technology and music as an excuse to stop having a real-live conversation with a real-live human being, or to just listen to the world around them instead of drawing in.

New Things to Think About

I hadn’t really thought about how much noise is always present everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you actually acknowledge it or not it is still present and came become quite overwhelming if you start focusing on it. Even when we were just sitting outside listening to everything, sounds that you don’t even notice any other day can start sounding like they are coming out of a speaker right next to you. The traffic was the most constant sound that I heard, but if you focused on it enough it can sound like you are sitting right next to the road. But, even the most minute sounds can become very loud and even obnoxious. When I was just listening to people walking by, just the slightest noise of people’s keys became louder than the traffic and the machinery. Then when I tried to block that sound out, whenever someone after that came by with their keys, it got really irritating because that was one of the few sounds I wanted to block out, but couldn’t.
The other thing that we talked about that I never really thought about was how some people literally have to have some sort of noise at all times or else they start getting uncomfortable. In a sense, they need the noise in order to think. But on the other hand, there are people who cannot think if there is any noise around them at all. For me, when I am studying or doing homework I always have my music on. It is kind of ironic, but whenever I try to study without music I find myself unable to concentrate on the work I need to get done. I need to have some music in order to not start thinking about what I have to get done that day or that week, or about what is going on with my friends, or what other homework I still have to do, or even just thinking about how much longer the homework is going to take me. When I am just reading for the fun of it or doing other things I usually don’t have any sort of music on because it is something I like to do and want to do so I can concentrate without any music. In other words yes I am strange and I know it, but now I am starting to think about why I do listen to music when I do and why I don’t when I don’t. I also am thinking of what other noises are out there in the world around me whether I can hear them or not.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Silience is Golden

I believe the study about how quieter and more tranquil communities have stronger connections is holds a lot of water. I'm oridinally from a small farming community thats ten minutes away from any major road. It is comprised of about 100 families and most of themare members of Sts. Peter and Paul perish. The area is collectively known as 12 mile and it is a very tight knit community. Everyone knows everyone else's name and veryone always waves to you when you drive past them. There is no crime or other major social problems. I don't know if you can contribute all the to the lack of industrial noise, but the remoteness is definetly a factor. This remoteness is so treasured that people fear the eventual addition of subdivisions in 12 mile. No one wants to see the community be destroyed but cramming poeple in uniformal subdivision.

Besides the tight community I love 12 mile for two other reasons. The first is the sound track. No matter where I'm out in 12 mile if I stop and listen there is a high-fi soundscape of birds singing, leaves rustling in the trees, and all kinds of animals and insects. Every now and then I'll just chill down by my creek or skip rocks on my lake and just take in through all my senses. The sound of the water washing over rocks, the smell of the grass, the feeling of the sun hitting me, the sight of all the green trees around me, and the taste of truely fresh air. Its the most tranquil feeling ever. No matter what kind of a day im having after just 20 or 30 minutes of chilling out I feel completely renewed. The other reason I enjoy living in 12 mile is the view at night. I love looking at the stars and I swear I have not found a better place to view them than my own back yard. At night its pitch black where I live because there are no street lights or anything. This makes the stars look more vivid than anywhere else I have ever been. Plus at night there is still a high fi soundscape of bugs and frogs by my lake. Its just a soothing effect. My house is 25 minutes from the nearest McDonalds or Walmart, but I would never trade the tranquil soundscape or stunning view for all the McDonalds double cheese burgers or Walmart's convient everyday low prices. In my book, tranquility lays the smack down on convience everyday of the week.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Thorough Ear Cleaning

I'll admit, I hadn't really noticed it until this week, but we are truly a stimulus-addicted society. Think about it, you can't go anywhere where there are people and find quiet -that is, quiet in the sense of at least trying not to make noise. You walk into a store, they're playing you music. Thinking about it now, it just seems weird to play music while you're grocery shopping (maybe it's just me). You're stuck in an elevator for, what, two seconds, and they play you music. You're put on hold and they play you music over the telephone. It seems that they try to catch you in a situation you can't escape and pump out noise at you.
But then, don't we do that to ourselves? We get in the car and turn on the radio. We go for a walk, or ride the bus, or even sit down to do homework and we "plug ourselves in" to an ipod or something. Some people turn on the television just to have the background noise. We've become a society that's scared of silence. Have you ever been in a situation with someone, and there's a lull in the conversation, during which neither of you say anything. Did you remember thinking, 'Gosh, this is awkward,"? It shouldn't be. I think this is one of the reasons why so many of us are in awe when we are in solitude in nature. There are still sound, to be sure, but not noise in the way our man-made society would have it. They're simply sounds of life, of living. Such sounds seem to be driven out of our everyday world.
This habit of "plugging ourselves in" or of letting others do it to us is contributing largely to the tendency toward isolation in our society today. People just don't talk to strangers anymore. There was a time, believe it or not when making friends wasn't just accepting someone onto you MySpace. You actually had to interact... in person. This would mean something along the lines of starting a conversation with the woman sitting next to you on the bus, or in the waiting room. This means more than making an unintelligible grunt at the man operating the cash register. It means making small talk about the weather with a perfect stranger whether you really care about it or not. (it seems we need a hurricane to get anyone to talk about the weather anymore) But this sort of interaction just isn't happening. You can't talk to the person next to you in the waiting room because they've got their ippod plugged into their ears and can't hear you anyway. You can no longer talk to the man at the cash register because, well, he's not there anymore and the whole gosh-darn thing is a U-scan. We're slowly becoming more and more introverted and taking out all human interaction in our everyday lives -that is, except for socializing with the select people whom we already know or cannot escape; ie, family. You technically don't even have to go to the grocery store anymore, but can just order your stuff online and have it delivered to your front door. Crazy huh?
And all this because we crave constant sensory stimuli and we want to obtain it passively. Conversation's just too much work. And talking to strangers? No way. Our idea of leaving our comfort zones is signing up for a plan that sends you random songs to test out on your ipod. Pathetic when you think about it, isn't it?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Artistic Decline of America

Last week, Angelle wrote about our morally decaying society, and said that “entertainment needs to be upgraded.” She’s right. One of the most interesting facts about John Cage, to me, is the fact that in his time, he was relatively well-known; ordinary people knew who he was and were at least somewhat interested in his work. People debated the merits of his music—some loved him, others hated him. Given Cage’s acceptance (today, he is regarded as more or less a legitimate musician), it’s fair to say the “lovers” won out. I can’t say I agree with that decision, but at least the people of Cage’s time cared enough to debate such matters. Today, I can’t imagine many people even taking the time to find out who Cage was. We don’t just live in a morally decaying society, we also live in an intellectually decaying society.

This can be seen in areas other than music. In 1963 (I think), the big bestseller was The Caine Mutiny, by Herman Wouk, a brilliant book that won a Pulitzer Prize. The big bestseller of the last few years was The Da Vinci Code, which was a poorly researched pseudo historical screed (at least by all accounts; I haven’t read it) which lets people with flunked high school history the chance to trade historical conspiracy theories.

Or take pop music—in the sixties and seventies, we had Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, and Johnny Cash; now, we have Mariah Carey, Avril, and Toby Keith. Nothing against these later artists (in fact, I really like Toby Keith), but they really don’t measure up to their forebears.

A final example can be found in political debate. In 1968, ABC wanted two top political pundits, so they selected Bill Buckley and Gore Vidal. Both were accomplished authors (both wrote bestselling novels, as well as writing significant nonfiction) and smart, sophisticated debaters. If a network was to attempt such a thing now, who would they come up with—Sean Hannity and Keith Olbermann? I rest my case—since Cage’s time, we have devolved intellectually as a nation.

Not, of course, that the sixties and seventies were an artists’ Utopia—they gave the world plenty of awful stuff, such as Mrya Breckenridge. But then, the artistic highs were higher too. People cared about art, at least a little bit, and people like John Cage were considered interesting. Perhaps, somewhere, there is a modern day John Cage living somewhere—but instead of being a controversial celebrity, he only plays Tuesday nights for members of Berkley’s faculty.

Monday, September 15, 2008

nothing to say...


just kidding. Or maybe I'm not...

Maybe I have said more in my blank paper than I ever will in one of these blogs. Hmmm... Alright, so enough of the Cage experiment. I'm backtracking here, but there was a passage in Silence that we didn't mention in class, and I felt it really exemplified some of cage's theories that I can relate to. It's on page 12 at the bottom, but in it Cage mentions his dad being an inventor, and how he got his best ideas when sleeping. Cage also mentions that he used this idea to tell students that in order to create something or write music, you have to do something boring. This sounds ridiculous, but there is so much truth to it. Our world is very distracting, and too often I find myself filling the void with my ipod or some other source to block out those distractions. the only problem is, that my ipod becomes a distraction as well. I want to be an author, so I have a lot of experience trying to block out distractions and try and write from "inside". In writing songs it's the same way. If I'm in an environment where I am amused or entertained in any way, or even bothered or irritated by something continual, then it's impossible to "hear myself think". I think Cage really had a point, that you have to just be, in order to do anything. You can't be taking things in and really experiencing them if you are also trying to put out something as well. It just doesn't work, though we all try it. What I mean is, I can't really listen and speak at the same time and do both efficiently. It's the same with trying to write music or even books. I can't be expressive while simultaneously be accepting new information from the world around me. I need to be in a, what normally would be considered, boring environment. But I think Cage makes the other point, that by using this environment as it was meant, by utilizing it's potential, it is no longer boring. Therefore, there is no boring sounds or experiences unless you allow them to be so. Previously when Cage had made the statement about if something is boring, then do it longer, I thought he was just insane (or maybe he held a grudge against fun-ness) Now I can see that It isn't being bored that is the goal, but rather to embrace the wonderful experience of creation or thought, that comes out of those experiences.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Not Sure Where to Stand

I can see both sides of the debate that was raised in class today. I can see where some may view Cage's music as not music at all but rather just noise. On the other hand, I can also see how others may view his music to be insightful and eye opening. I think it's just a matter of how you're feeling when you listen to it. I think that, like how your mood effects how you may interpret a piece written by Cage, it can also effect how you view Cage and his concepts as a whole. For me, I've been on both sides. Sometimes I can see what Cage means and relate to the concept he's trying to get across. Other times it just seems like he's out in left field and I have absolutely NO idea what he's talking about. Sometimes I'll like a piece by Cage and other times it won't appeal to me. I think it's all a matter of mood and attitude. If you're not feeling open about what you're listening to, of course you won't like the music.
Sometimes I do wonder though, if Cage wouldn't have succeeded better doing something else besides writing music. His ideas are phenomenal and if he would have worked harder to try to get people to see his ideas through some other form other than music, I think he would have been more accepted and listened to. I think a lot of people thought he was a joke and therefore didn't listen to what he was saying. If those people would only have listened to what he was trying to say rather than automatically writing him off to be some kind of jokester, they might have seen that he had a lot of important and insightful things to say. Although Cage "had nothing to say", I think he's said an awful lot; it's just a matter of if people are willing to be open to what he's had to say or not.

Defending Cage

For the record, I am feeling quite sick right now and am not exactly awake. That being said, I am not entirely sure if this post will be comprehensive and apologize in advance.
While I recognize that music, for the most part, is about evoking emotion, I don't think we should limit music to only emotions. Yes, music, and art in general, is "holding a mirror up to nature", (I am almost done with the series of Hitchhiker's Guide, by the way, and I think it's a perfectly valid definition. The ideas can be quite philosophical at times.) but nature is not just emotional. Every kid asks, "Why is the sky blue?" for the same reason: nature makes us think. To put it more romantically, it evokes a sense of wonder that not only influences our emotions, but makes us wonder how that something came into being. The simplest thing can come about in the most complicated ways. A smooth pebble was made smooth by millions of years of erosion, but we would never take notice until we stop and wonder, how could something so beautiful happen so simply?
For these reasons, I think all forms of art, including music, are not defined by whether they evoke emotions or not. Art makes us wonder, makes us think how or why something is the way it is. How does a particular sound make us feel the way it makes us feel? Why is it that a piece of Beethoven's music is considered beautiful and emotional, yet the quiet ticking of a clock, or the hum of a fan, or the flow of traffic, is said to be mundane and boring? When sounds we normally overlook because of their common presence in our lives are used by Cage to compose a piece of music, they're called to our attention. We listen, we notice them, and we begin to think. Everyone thinks something different. Daniel, like many others, still considers the sounds mundane, perhaps even insulting to the works of classical composers. Myself, and many others, begin to wonder how a sound we ignore in everyday life can suddenly morph into a decent piece of a musical composition.
Cage's music, though occasionally composed with purposelessness, is still music. As long as it generates some sort of reaction, a form of thought, from its listeners, it can be considered art in my opinion. The main difference, from a purely thought or philisophical view, between a piece of music that evokes emotion and Cage's compositions, is how they reflect nature. An emotional song is composed to reflect our own internal responses to nature--the feelings that are brought out by a sight or situation. Cage's work is a reflection of the external world, the sounds that accompany the sights and the everyday activities of life.

A Morally Decaying Society

Watching the Water Walk performance allowed me to see and understand what the times were like when Cage was living. Cage is on a game show in which no bad language was used and the content was whole-heartedly good-natured. The audience laughs at the little amusements in his “music” -- some to the point of hysteria. Wow, have times change. Now, people won’t give a television 5 minutes unless the presence of vulgar language or obscene violence is present. It’s outrageous! John Cage’s simplistic entertainment reflects the type of society which we have evolved from.
Back in Cage’s time, shows like Leave It to Beaver were loved by the entire nation. Today there are only handfuls of people that still enjoy that genre of entertainment. This is what I believe happened to Cage in his music and art. The art of Cage is filled with goofy components that people of that era found funny. Today, the average person does not distinguish his humor as enjoyable entertainment, but instead some come to find it silly and obnoxious. As Daniel said, his fan base has diminished to mere handfuls of people due to the fact that times and interests have changed.
I have come to realize that I wish that our society could go back to its old ways of some good-hearted entertainment. Instead of watching attention-hungry people party and embarrass themselves, it would be nice to experience a new form of music or be introduced to different philosophies of thinking. Entertainment needs to be upgraded. Even though Cage’s music may not necessarily have purpose, I enjoy the thoughts that it provokes and the realizations it brings.
It was so weird watching Cage's waterwalk piece on a clip from a popular game show from the 60's. Like Dr. Langguth said in class, public television has changed quite a bit from the 60's. It was startling to see the cigarette advertisement on the show, as well as an artist as experimental as Cage. I really liked how Cage absolutely doesn't care if people laugh at his work. More than simply not caring if other people laugh, I think Cage doesn't even take himself as seriously as some people do. He did not perform waterwalk somberly, as he could have done. He didn't smile either, but I think he gave off the vibe of a deadpan comedian more than anything else. He performed the piece, which I thought was more performance art than concert, with a whimsical and lighthearted air, flitting from each activity, each bringing a new sound into the piece. He doesn't crash the appliances with a rock star, angsty urge to destroy. He lithely flips them to the floor, much more like David Letterman throwing things off the top of his building than like the Who.

This whimsical version of Cage I think is what makes him so easy to like. I cannot summon the kind of contempt that I think Daniel, and many music critics have come to have for him, because he is so obviously lighthearted about everything. He would be so easy to hate if he was pretentious about his music, like the stereotypical modern art critic, condescending to everyone unable to see the deeper meaning in the painting of a large red dot. He is totally OK with his works making his audience laugh, like he points out when he says he prefers laughter to tears.
I kept having the impression, while I watched the waterwalk video, that I was watching some comedian do a parody of Cage's works. Cage's pieces may sound pretentious, but I think he himself is anything but.

So if I enjoy watching Cage's works because they make me laugh at how silly he looks when he flips appliances off the table, keeps going back to the hissing kettle, and appears to stop to take a drink, does that mean that his work is music? I have to say that in this particular piece, I did not, at first pay attention to the sounds he was making really at all. I was too preocuppied with watching him. But once I forced myself to listen, O yeah, this is supposed to be a song, I found that the sounds were much darker than the laughter of the crowd, as well as my own, had led me to believe. The hissing and the crashing and the gurgling would not have sounded funny at all. But I don't think it would have really sounded like anything much.

I think, overall, waterworks the performance was art--I would say a comedy. But the music itself, without the visual performance, I can hardly label "art".

Some Defense for Cage

I think Daniel and a lot of other poeple that listen to Cage's music aren't exactly listening to it the right way. I know Daniel and others (including myself) focus on the emotions music causes and value music based on that. If I go to a party I expect the music to pump me up. If you try to listen to Cage's music the same way you listen to music on the radio you will always be dissapionted. When you listen one of Cage's works you should mentally prepare your self for what you are about to hear. You cant expect the same qualities as "normal" music. You won't find emotion or even order in most of Cage's pieces. You can only expect to hear sounds with no real order.

As far as Cage's music not causing people to think I believe its almost the complete opposite. Cage's music requires thought in order to be appreciated. You have to understand the ideas behind his music. The average person couldn't hear "4 33" or "Variations" the first time and really appreciate it unless they learned about it first. With each peace you have to ask yourself, what is Cage's goal? In some cases he has no goal at all. This is something we are not use to. Almost all media now is passive, it tells us exactly what to think, feel, or pay attention to. John Cage takes an active approach, he invites us to think, feel, or pay attention to whatever we want and draw our own conclusion.

John Cage's music is not bad or pointless it just asks us to think and listen in a new way, but its up to us to make that call if we want to exprience sound in this new way.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cage Performs Water Walk for a Game Show Audience

Please have a look at this video.

Cage is shown performing Water Walk on a popular game show.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

More Relentless Cage Bashing

Possibly, I’m getting John Cage’s musical philosophy wrong, but here it is, as I understand it: All sounds are more or less created equal, and no sound or arrangement of sounds is superior to another. Therefore, the best thing a composer can do is to remove all personal prejudice from his work, and let the sounds be themselves. This is my understanding of Cage’s philosophy, and I hope it’s correct, because otherwise this post is pretty pointless.

Here’s my problem with this idea: all sounds are not created equal. If you put me and Jimi Hendrix on a guitar, would my annoying janglings even come close to Hendrix’s stuff? Of course not, but according to John Cage’s philosophy, my sounds would be just as good as a master’s. And that can’t be right.

Sounds are everywhere. As Cage found out, even entering a “soundless” room can’t keep out sounds. (Although the high sound he heard most likely wasn’t his nervous system—it was probably tinnitus). You can’t do anything without experiencing a whole medley of sounds—most determined wholly by chance operations. The whole point of music, it seems to me, is to construct sounds that have meaning, that can move and inspire people. Art has been defined as “holding a mirror up to nature.” (Okay, I read that in “the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, but still, it works pretty well). Good (as most people define it) music does that. Cage’s doesn’t—and that is the whole point of his work—to divorce “music” from anyone’s (not popular perceptions, anyone’s) idea of beauty.

I don’t know how valuable popular opinion is for determining art’s greatness—after all, I’m pretty sure that Mariah Carey would win a worldwide popularity contest against Beethoven—but it indisputably has some value. And I think it’s significant that composers like Beethoven and Mozart and Handel all inspire people around the world (I’m not sure of their popularity level outside the western world, but then, if McDonalds is popular in China, I’m guessing classical music is too), while John Cage’s entire fan base pretty much consists of a few people in New York and San Francisco. (I know, he has fans in other cities too, but not many, and apparently Cage never really took off in Europe). I think there is a reason for that—Beethoven and company send a powerful message—it differs depending on the person, but it’s always there. The only message in Cage’s music is: “Hey, I’m listening to some pretty experimental stuff here.”

Yet Again Cage Is Paid To Do Nothing

John Cage seemed to have developed a knack for getting paid to do nothing. I went to the indeterminacy website to get a random story and the story I got (this was the third one) had to do with a concert that he and David Tudor put on. This is it:
“During that Greensboro concert,
David Tudor and
got a little mixed up.

He began to
play one piece
and I began
to play a completely different

I stopped,
since he is
the pianist he
and I just
sat there,


It seems that only Cage could pull that off. He was probably the only musician/performer that could just sit there and join the audience without feeling incredibly nervous or at least trying to get back into the song. However, Cage was just so care-free that he didn’t seem to mind . I would guess this was because he was already used to any amount of criticism thrown at him due to his radical ideas, and most people were probably sick of actually trying to say something to him that the critical aspect no longer bothered him, and I would imagine that he wasn’t worried about getting paid being that he had his mushroom money. So he could, in a sense, afford to just enjoy himself and stop to listen right in the middle of one of his concerts. Not many performers could do that, but then again if Cage needed money, we probably wouldn’t have all of these new and wonderful ideas right now, nor would we be taking this FYS. His care-free attitude probably also enhanced his creativity because he didn’t have to worry about following any guidelines or about his music being popular. He could just let it be what it was which is what he constantly suggests other musicians to do, and even regular people are given this advice about their daily lives which I think is what Cage was trying to get at. He wanted them to be who they are, or to be themselves. We take this advice for granted, but Cage spent the majority of his adulthood during the Cold War, in a culture where parents were more worried about their children’s popularity than their grades. He lived in a culture where people we’re thrown in jail or black listed simply because the guy down the street didn’t like them and decided to accuse them of being a communist. It would seem that he was trying to get his message out in a more subtle way. So his care-free attitude, not only affected our music, but has a serious impact on our perception. It also allowed for him to do these amusing things such as stop playing at a concert and simply listen.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Cage's Personal Tastes

So, as we discovered and established in class, John Cage did, in fact have tastes in music whether or not they were expressed in his compositions. As an artist myself, I understand how hard it can be to let things go when it comes to what you like to be seen -or in his case, heard- in your work. No matter what I do and no matter what medium I choose to work in, the pieces I create all have something distinctly "penny-ish" about them. In fact, this can be said of many artists -most artists- because we all, like it or not, have likes and dislikes. Honestly, would you use a color that you absolutely hated in one of your own paintings? It may be ok for other people but it's not going to end up in mine. I might even like the color in someone else's painting, but there's just no way I can bring myself to use it. It's just not "me." And it's amazing how you can identify a work just using what you know about an artist. Personally, I think Beethoven was way too serious and never any fun. I can always tell a piece of his when I hear it. He writes music like a heated persuasive essay. Mozart, on the other hand, is so much more playful in his composition and when I hear anything of his, I recognize it as well (I also get an image of some crazy, fun, loony guy pounding maniacally and yet blissfully at a grand piano).
So us artists are predictable. So many of us like our work as being a manifestation of ourselves. I think that Cage, however, didn't. I don't think that he meant for art to be about him, but about art. This is evident in his often stated quote that he wanted to "let sounds be themselves." He was a different kind of artist in that, He wasn't a manipulator of mediums, but a facilitator. He collected sounds and presented them, as one would collect interesting shells and present them, not as a work of an artist, but a work of nature, taking very little credit for the masterpiece. But then, one could say that, though his art wasn't about himself, it was for himself. He created music in the mentality of the audience, preferring to be as little involved in the actual composing of the music as possible in order to be fully submerged in the act of listening to it. I think that, for Cage, music was about listening and not about creating.
Taking into account that he had his own preferences, Cage knew that man can hardly write music without putting himself into it. Therefore, if Cage was to have as little to do with the music as possible, if he was to detach his personality from his work, he would have to institute an arbitrary way of determining what should be written. Through use of the I-Ching, Cage was able to create as little room for his personal preference as possible, allowing his mind to have nothing else to do but listen. It was a cause and effect thing for him, not a compositional plan. In a sense, the coins were writing the music, and he was able to listen to the sounds being themselves, without manipulation by an artist to meet personal preference or some sort of agenda. Cage was about experiencing music, not about writing it. He wanted to listen as much as the next audience member and felt that he could only do this, and feel no connection to the work, if it were written through chance operations, leaving his likes and dislikes unaccounted for. I liken it to asking someone else to make a work of art for you. If you were to make it yourself, you know that it would turn out to look like you made it, like it reflects something about you. But since you don't want this art to be about you, you've asked someone else to do it for you. You just want to be the audience for a change.

P.S. So, I work at the library, and I'd never heard of the I-Ching before this class, but last night, I shelved a book titled, The I-Ching: Modern Applications. Cue the Twilight Zone music.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Another Random Draw from Indeterminacy

I was surprised when I came into Mother’s room in the nursing home to see that the TV set was on. The program was teenagers dancing to rock-and-roll. I asked Mother how she liked the new music. She said, “Oh, I’m not fussy about music.” Then, brightening up, she went on, “You’re not fussy about music either.”

Friday, September 5, 2008

Here are my own results from Indeterminacy.

"When I got the letter from Jack Arends asking me to lecture at the Teachers College, I wrote back and said I’d be glad to, that all he had to do was let me know the date. He did. I then said to David Tudor, “The lecture is so soon that I don’t think I’ll be able to get all ninety stories written, in which case, now and then, I’ll just keep my trap shut.” He said, “That’ll be a relief.”

Happy Birthday John Cage

Today is the birthday of John Cage. Please take a moment to visit the Cage website Indeterminacy, at which you can read a story from Cage's work chosen by chance operations. 

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Twilight Zone?

After watching that performance in class, I'm not sure what to think. I understand the concept behind it, but it didn't do anything for me. Taking what we consider to be everyday "noise", and trying to make us see it in a new light as "music" is a revolutionary idea. However, by just blaring all of the sounds at once in a sort of random mesh from life, instead of trying to emphasize certain ones at different moments or composing them at all, really doesn't accomplish the task. 
I remember seeing some women in the video holding their heads or faces. It seemed they had a headache, but I don't know, maybe they were just deep in thought. I saw others who seemed a little more carried away by it. They were way too excited about the whole thing, and could this really have been induced by the performance? Others expressions were sort of blank and hazed over, which I can definitely relate to. I must admit I zoned out more than once during the performance. If that was Cages goal, then he was successful. But does Cage really even have goals with his music?
He talks so much about getting rid of individual taste and likes, to go beyond it, but that's not what happens for me. I still retain my likes and dislikes in music and life in general. I still like many of his ideas and concepts, but I'm having trouble actually appreciating his music and getting beyond his method of writing. I feel he takes any artistry out of music by using chance operation. Even in nature there are patterns for bird songs, and they are often used to attract other animals, (not make them zone out or give them a headache.) In our everyday lives, even if we do appreciate the sounds all around us, I find we are often appreciating a recognition of pattern or beat. It isn't the randomness that we can connect with, and I believe with music, that is the ultimate goal. It's not always about learning something new, or opening our minds, though that is a very noble cause, but more often, it is about connection.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Philosophy v. Music

The more I read and learn about Cage, the less I think of him as a composer. He’s really more of a philosopher who is just showing a lot of his points through music. He says, “simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and one’s desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord”.
This statement is so far away from anything the rational, normal, human part of us is used to hearing or used to understanding that its difficult to even begin to think about it. I mean, how do you get your mind and your desires out of life’s way. Aren’t your mind and your desires all that you have? Or is that his point? That we are more than just the combination of our mind and our desires.
Our society does not teach us this. We want stuff. What stuff we want describes us as a person. We all have different minds which society judges and categorizes and labels. All we are, to most people, is our minds and our desires.
I tend to think, though, of our mind including our souls, the very part of us that makes us human and unique. Maybe Cage, when he said this, was thinking about minds and souls separately. Our minds are only our intellect, our logic, the emotionless thinking processes. Maybe he meant that we should just let the other part of ourselves, the deeper part, our souls do their own thing. Maybe our souls would be OK with just being, with just recognizing how great life is as it is, without distractions and desires and logic.
I like this idea, even though I think it is totally illogical and completely unrealistic and unattainable, on earth at least. I also have no idea how Cage’s music is supposed to help us get to this point. I think that is what I am coming to realize about Cage. I like some of his thoughts behind the music, but his music itself does not open my mind in the way I think it would help allow it to do.

Insert Clever Title Here

I found myself having a very "John Cage" moment tonight. My roommate and I decided to go to buy a basketball so we could play on the court outside sometimes. On the ride back to Thomas More, I realized that I had completely zoned out and wasn't listening to a word my roommate was saying. I was listening to the sound of the wheels of the car against the pavement. I was so engulfed in listening to the steady rhythm of the wheel rolling along the pavement that I had absolutely no idea that she was talking to me. Every so often there would be a random sound made by her (my roommate) running over a rock. After thinking about it for a while, I suppose the random rock noises parallel the idea of chance operations since they were coming at random times and each one sounded different.
Tonight made me realize the impact this class is having on me. I'm starting to notice sounds in random things, much as Cage did. I actually think I'm starting to scare my roommate, with listening to the FYS CD songs more often and doing things like I did tonight. On the first day, I seriously thought the music we were going to listen to would be a big joke. Little did i know I'd begin to enjoy, understand and even relate to it.

Music has a purpose

“Nothing is accomplished by writing a piece of music
“ “ “ “ hearing “ “ “ “
“ “ “ “ playing “ “ “ “” -John Cage

Does music really accomplish nothing? John Cage would seem to suggest this in his above statement, but I disagree. Music accomplishes many things. John Cage was wrong! (for once).

Music is often used to accomplish many tasks. The most prevalent one is entertainment. There are people that find composing music entertaining, many more find playing music entertaining, and most people are entertained when listening to music. It accomplishes the task of being a medium for which people use to keep themselves from being bored. In my opinion, that’s an admirable feat.

Writing and playing music can also be used for purposes that hearing music cannot. They can be used as a source of income. People can sell their songs or their services in order to acquire the revenue necessary to provide for their families. Anyone who says that getting a job is not an important thing to accomplish has got to be crazy, and, if you’re good at it, composing or playing music can be your job.

Playing music can also evoke certain emotions, and for movies, plays, etc. that is exactly what you want to do. We’re all familiar with the “Jaws’” theme music. Music like that makes us feel a certain way even though we may not know why we should feel that way yet. In other words, playing music can help to set the scene in a movie. Playing music can also be used in a way that is often overlooked. It is often used as a form of worship. Most modern religions regularly use music in their common religious gatherings (ex: Sunday mass) and for major holidays (ex: Christmas). One may argue that God doesn’t exist and therefore this example is null, but, even if God didn’t exist (because that person would obviously be wrong), we’d still use music to accomplish the task of worshiping; we’d simply be worshiping nothing.

Listening to music can be used as a source of inspiration. Whenever I experience writer’s block or any sort of creativity block for that matter, listening to music helps me to overcome it. What might seem odd is that I can never seem to relate my new idea to the music I listened to in any way. I guess listening or viewing creative works of art can simply inspire creativity.

Playing and listening to music can also serve another purpose. It is a form of communication. It can be used to convey emotions and other abstract ideas. Music that we find happy, sad, or frightening would, usually, affect an isolated tribe in Africa, that has had no contact with our culture before, in much the same way as it affects us. Basically speaking, music tends to be universal; its affects have only minute and insignificant variations from person to person. All sound is music and often times half of what we say is communicated from the tone of and inflections in our voice. Even if we can’t understand someone due to language barriers, we can usually get a basic understanding of what they’re saying from the tone. Even according to John Cage himself, because all noise is music, we use music to communicate everyday. And he said that music accomplished nothing.

Cage Criticism

Since last Wednesday, we really haven’t done much more in class, given that we had core testing and all. The only really memorable things were performances of two of John Cage’s most memorable works—4:33 and (whatever that piece we listened to today was; unfortunately, I forgot. Not good). Here are some of my thoughts on these pieces.

Before starting, I should mention that I’m not a total unsophisticated philistine who wouldn’t recognize fine art if he saw it. I do occasionally listen to classical music (Pavarotti is amazing), and I sometimes read poetry and plays and stuff. I even like some experimental stuff—Cormac McCarthy is more known as a pessimistic nihilist, but given that he doesn’t really use capitalization or punctuation, his writing style might qualify as experimental. I also like some experimental music—I thought Kraftwerk’s Telephone Song was pretty good. So I’m not necessarily opposed to all forms of art that are different from regular stuff.

That being said, I think that 4:33 is simply pretentious, unoriginal nonsense. Cage seems to think that he invented silence. He didn’t, or even come close. There were at least two artists who performed 4:33 (or at least had the same idea—I guess if it wasn’t four and half minutes long it wasn’t quite the same thing) well before Cage, although Cage was probably unaware of their work. So 4:33 isn’t exactly original.

Neither is the idea of silence. Thoreau (and if you’re wondering, I don’t much like Thoreau either) wrote in the nineteenth century that
Silence is the universal refuge, the sequel to all dull discourses and all foolish acts, a balm to our every chagrin, as welcome after satiety as after disappointment; that background which the painter may not daub, be he master or bungler, and which, however awkward a figure we may have made in the foreground, remains ever our inviolable asylum, where no indignity can assail, no personality disturb us.
So it isn’t as if John Cage was one of the first to discover the sound of silence (which happens to be to be the title of one of Thoreau’s books). He was simply the first to give us a musical piece in which a guy in a suit sits at a piano with a stopwatch.

As for the piece we listened to today (I really wish I could remember what it’s called; Wikipedia isn’t helping), I didn’t think much of it either. As I write this, I have a fan going, which means that I am basically listening to Cage’s piece. It may be possible to make an interesting piece of music with fans and blenders and stuff—but just turning them on and off at random doesn’t work for me. (Although Cage’s response to his burning pants was brilliant—there’s no denying it).

Of course, these are just my opinions, and maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’ll take another course later that will open my eyes and I will realize what I’ve been missing. But now, I just can’t get excited about John Cage—his music seems to me boring and supremely pointless.
Listening to Variations VII today, there was a moment when I couldn't figure out exactly what was going on. I was hearing static and a pulsing sound--or static OR pulsing. I didn't know if I was hearing both or only one. One second I could hear one and not the other, and the next the other was the dominant noise. This could have been part of the piece, but I really thought my mind was playing tricks on me. I'm going to assume that the piece was designed that way--so that, if you concentrated on one sound, you would hear one 'melody', as far as a melody can get in such a piece. If you shift your focus to one of the many other sounds, you hear something completely different.
The only way I can really think to explain this the way I'm thinking is visual. There is a moving optical illusion I saw a while back. A shadow of a girl has one foot pointed out and is slowly revolving in a circle. Depending on the mindset of the person watching it, and how that person views the picture, the girl could be rotating clockwise or counterclockwise. If you find just the right way to shift your focus, she suddenly stops and begins turning the other way. I started thinking of this when listening to Variations VII.
There were so many sounds at one time, and just to 'cope' with it I automatically picked out one sound to concentrate on. Listening to that sound--static, or a fan--makes you start hearing a pattern to a sound you would normally try and block out. Taking in one sound made all the others fall into a pattern behind it. Suddenly switching to concentrate on another sound produces something completely different and the piece takes on something completely apart from what it had sounded like before. I don't know if it was just me, but I think if thirty different people heard this piece, they would all pick out thirty different noises that seemed to be the predominant sound in the piece for them.

Cage Surprises Again

Cage caught me off guard when I watched the movie of his performance in class, shocker huh? I was part expecting part hoping that he would be preforming something that sounded like techno music because the work was done with electronic instruments. After I realized it wasn't anything of the techno sort :( I tried to listen to all the sounds in the piece. I liked how some sounds would start out as more dominate than others but then they would fade into the background and replaced with a new dominate sound. It was almost like the ambient background music had background music to itself. After awhile though it became hard to focus on the movie because the sound lost my attention and I just sat there thinking with Cage's performance as a soundtrack to my thoughts. Every now and then a new interesting sound would pop up and catch my attention for a few minutes. I enjoyed when they showed the audience because it showed how different people reacted to the performance. Some people were sleeping, others looked confused and perplexed by what they heard, and others were smiling and enjoying the music as if the were at a rock concert.
I enjoy reading about Cage's ideas in his book. I thought the silent room was neat because Cage still heard the sounds of his body working. I really wonder how Cage would react if the room was actually completely void of sound. Would he just sit there and take it in or would he get up and say, "Well this is boring" and then proceeded to make as many random sounds as possible with whatever he could use? With Cage it could go either way, or a bit of both. True silence may never be possible but I think that might be a good thing.

Anechoic Chamber

"It was at Harvard not quite forty years ago that I went into an anechoic [totally silent] chamber not expecting in that silent room to hear two sounds: one high, my nervous system in operation, one low, my blood in circulation. The reason I did not expect to hear those two sounds was that they were set into vibration without any intention on my part. That experience gave my life direction, the exploration of nonintention. No one else was doing that. I would do it for us. I did not know immediately what I was doing, nor, after all these years, have I found out much. I compose music. Yes, but how? I gave up making choices. In their place I put the asking of questions. The answers come from the mechanism, not the wisdom of the I Ching, ." --John Cage, 1990
When I was reading about this in the book, I started thinking about the fact that it truely is never completely silent. It does not matter whethere there was any intention of being sounds made or not, there would always be something. Or at least if those few sounds coming from ourselves cease to exist, then consequently so would we. Hopefully there will always be the sounds of breathing, blood flow, and the nervous system. So with this in mind, that makes you think well if that is true then that in a way implies that sound was always supposed to exist in some way, shape, or form. I mean what would the world be or what would exist on it if there was no longer any kind of sound what so ever? There would be no living thing on Earth, and so even if there was something else making noise, would it be heard? It is kind of like if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound? It all depends on the perspective.

Music Lies in the Ears of the Beholder

After class today, Jenna and I were talking in the hallway about the video of John Cage’s performance. I really didn’t understand anything about the avant-garde performance. I could see how he was taking random sounds and piecing them together to create music, but I wondered what kind of music he was after. In our conversation, we had commented about how it could be a sort of strange background music, but the more I thought about it, I began to question whether or not that performance could fall into that category.
His performance could be background music in the sense that the music is entirely composed of background noises. I found it interesting that Cage just chose random places to broadcast via telephone; although, really I should have expected this decision. The places Cage chose to broadcast ranged from Cunningham’s dance studio to the container in which Riley’s pet turtles were kept in. These were background noises, but not really background music.
When you think of background music what comes to mind? Music that is soft, not overpowering, pleasant to the ear, soothing and tranquil, yet still entertaining. When musicians perform during a party or meal, the guests chatter over them and at pauses in the conversation they engage themselves in the music of the live entertainment. To me I believe the music makes the party, but if you were to ask Cage his opinion he would probably say the party makes the music. He would most likely consider the clanking of dishes, table talk, and the random crescendos of coughs and sneezes more musical than the composed music itself. This is because Cage feels that music must be free and detached from emotions so that the person can fully enjoy every natural sound. I don’t consider his performance background music, but I guess music lies in the ears of the beholder.

Radio by Chance Operations

Okay, so everyone's going to think I'm the biggest dork in the world, but I've started my own little John Cage ritual. So, I clipped out the radio station listing from the newspaper and use it to determine which radio station I listen to on my ride to and from school each day. I've assigned each station a die configuration and just roll a pair of dice the night before to see what I'll get to listen to. So far, it's been pretty interesting... I've listened to country, hard rock, heavy metal, contemporary christian, not-so-contemporary christian, classical, alternative, some talk radio, and Latino music. To add some more unpredictability to the equation, some stations get better reception than others, especially coming over from Cincinnati to Crestview Hills. This morning, actually, I experienced a bit of a phenomenon while parking. Depending on how far I pulled up into the space, the music I was listening to changed (and, okay, I'll admit it, I played around for a while backing up and pulling in while my radio vacillated between alternative and oldies. The people at soccer practice probably saw my and think I have issues.) Oh, and the varying amounts of static also affect the entire experience.
I also assigned a die configuration to silence, meaning I don't turn on my radio -but as we all know, there's no such thing as silence, especially on the highway. I thought it was very interesting the way Cage talked about the impossibility of silence in his book. He's in the anechoic chamber, the construction of which is supposed to absorb any noise and is as close to silence on Earth as one can get. Cage hears two sounds, one low and one higher pitch, and is told that they're his central nervous system and his pulse. So, he concludes that, so long as there's life,. there can never be silence. It seems, the closer we get to silence, the more, we realize, there is to hear. If the radio is on, I don't notice the humm of my engine, the sounds of the other cars, the clicking of my turn signal -but that doesn't mean they're not there. It's only when I attempt to hear the silence and turn off the radio that I hear all the sounds there really are, rumbling under my consciousness. It's just like when people go to a concert to hear music. They filter out all of the sounds around them because there's music to be heard. I think this is something Cage was pointing out with his piece, 4:33.
I wonder if we could really function in a world that had silence. Surely we would notice its presence, living in a world where there's noise all around us 24/7. Sounds kind of scary to me.

P.S. I can't listen to the red CD in my car anymore. There are moments when I just can't tell if there's something wrong with my engine, or if it's the CD.