prepared piano,in which objects made of metal, wood, and rubber were attached to a piano's strings, thus altering pitch and tone and producing sounds resembling those of a minuscule percussion group. Cage's Bacchanale (1938) and Sonatas and Interludes (1946–48) were composed for prepared piano. Cage sought to break down the barrier between
nonart,maintaining that all sounds are of interest. Many of his works seek to liberate
nonmusical sounds.For example, 4′33″ (1952), probably his most famous piece, consists of 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence, providing a frame to be filled by random environmental sounds.
Cage also conceived the idea of a
composition indeterminate of its performance, in which the composer gives the performer instructions that do not directly condition the resultant sounds. For example, his famous Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (1951) is scored for 12 radios tuned at random. He also adopted procedures whereby the composer does not directly condition the sounds of the resultant composition, using such methods as rolling dice or consulting the I Ching (see aleatory music). Cage, who was first the teacher, then the romantic partner and artistic collaborator of choreographer Merce Cunningham, composed music for the dance to be played independently of the choreography.
A kind of musical provocateur, Cage is noted for his inventiveness, his humor, and his strong influence on minimalist composers such as Philip Glass and on the development of performance art. His influence also extended to such media as poetry, video art, painting, and printmaking. He wrote several books, among them Silence: Lectures and Writings (1961) and A Year from Monday (1967).
See D. Charles, For the Birds: John Cage in Conversation (1981); Cage's selected letters (2016) and letters to Merce Cunningham (2019), both ed by L. Kuhn; memoir by C. Brown (2007); biographies by D. Revill (1992), D. Nicholls (2007), and K. Silverman (2010); studies by P. Griffiths (1981), J. Pritchett (1993), W. Fetterman (1996), R. Kostelanetz (1970, 1991, 1993, and 1997), C. Shultis (1998), D. W. Patterson (2001), D. W. Bernstein and C. Hatch (2001), P. Dickinson, ed. (2006), K. Gann (2011), J. Robinson, ed. (2011), and K. Larson (2012); D. Nicholls, ed., Cambridge Companion to John Cage (2002); E. Caplan, Cage/Cunningham (documentary, 1991).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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