I consider John Cage to be the most powerful influence amongst experimental artists. Yet it was in Cage’s 1958 essay, “Indeterminacy”, that I realized that improvisation was not at the heart of his work.
"Improvisation...is something that I want to avoid. Most people who improvise slip back into their likes and dislikes and their memory, and...they don't arrive at any revelation that they are unaware of."
Cage sought freedom from the constructs of our selves, guiding us to new invention. Stepping back, away from the norm of melody, rhythm, sonic categorization and instrumentation, leaves us with the sound or noise that Cage was seeking. It is here that we begin to understand why he did...what he did. That is, to make all sounds equal, impartial and available within time and compositional space.
His study and infusion of Zen Buddhism was a tremendous influence and naturally supported his sonic experimentations. I can see Cage's relationship to his spiritual practice emoting from his compositions and prose. One such composition, is his 1992 piece called "Indeterminacy 1, 2, 3, 4". Cage, along with David Tudor, performed this prose-laden piece. Both instrumentation (bells, horns, etc.) and poetry are notated. Indeterminacy lays in the very loose timing of both, during performance.
"...Later, during the question period, I (Cage) gave 5 prepared answers regardless of the questions. This was a reflection of my engagement in Zen."
With a Dr. Seuss-like imagination, I've tried to follow Cage's musical road maps, enjoying every bit of his creative notation. As a visual artist, I am tempted to just stop here, looking, playing and framing his scores.
Not only were his scores artful, many of the instruments he designed were equally creative and functional. One of my favorite designs is called the prepared piano. To perform prepared piano you need stuff like pieces of a bicycle tire, screws and washers. These are then squeezed and twisted between the strings of a piano, pushing the piano’s strings and acoustics out of whack, resulting in a splendid rhythm instrument. And, for the unchanged strings - melodic capabilities. Cage’s Sonata’s are a favorite of mine.
75. Blue Hawaiian Stones