Wednesday, September 3, 2008

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.

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