Musicage: Cage Muses on Words * Art * Music

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Overview

"I was obliged to find a radical way to work — to get at the real, at the root of the matter," John Cage says in this trio of dialogues, completed just days before his death. His quest for the root of the matter led him beyond the bounds of the conventional in all his musical, written, and visual pieces. The resulting expansion of the definition of art — with its concomitant emphasis on innovation and invention—earned him a reputation as one of America's most influential contemporary artists.

Joan Retallack's conversations with Cage represent the first consideration of his artistic production in its entirety, across genres. Informed by the perspective of age, Cage's comments range freely from his theories of chance and indeterminate composition to his long-time collaboration with Merce Cunningham to the aesthetics of his multimedia works. A composer for whom the whole world — with its brimming silences and anarchic harmonies — was a source of music, Cage once claimed, "There is no noise, only sounds." As these interviews attest, that penchant for testing traditions reached far beyond his music. His lifelong project, Retallack writes in her comprehensive introduction, was "dislodging cultural authoritarianism and gridlock by inviting surprising conjunctions within carefully delimited frameworks and processes." Consummate performer to the end, Cage delivers here just such a conjunction — a tour de force that provides new insights into the man and a clearer view of the status of art in the 20th century.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"As glimpses of Cage near his career's end, MUSICAGE is invaluable . . . To people familiar only with Cage's music, the interviews devoted to his writing and visual art will be most revealing . . . The longest interview is devoted to music, and it has an absorbing addendum in which cellist Michael Bach joins the conversation. These parts of the discussion are the most explicit and technical and provide some of the most detailed insights available into Cage's thinking about the bearing of traditional instruments' acoustic capacities on the possibilities of composition. No less useful, though, are passing remarks that seem to illuminate the whole terrain of Cage's work." —San Francisco Chronicle

"Cage's constant amusement, his endless curiosity, his insistence on seeing life and art always in a new way, emerge vividly. The result is in effect a study of his thought in motion as he sometimes playfully but always seriously responds to Retallack's informed and sympathetic questioning . . . A highly accessible and personal introduction to a remarkable if elusive artist."—Publishers Weekly

"The two friends plumb some fascinating depths that reveal the unbuttoned landscape of Cage's mind . . . The intellectual level is quite high, and even Cage's detractors will find themselves stimulated by many of the ideas presented on these pages." — Library Journal
—Kirkus Reviews

"Cage, as always, is good company, a master aphorist who has an endless supply of pithy sayings . . . Cagey thoughts that will surely knit your brow."

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The celebrated avant-garde musician and thinker who died in 1992 is characterized by poet Joan Retallack as an American Zen master (though he had no formal Zen training); and, in the course of her three taped conversations with Cage that comprise most of the book (the last of them only days before his death), the aptness of the description becomes apparent. Cage's constant amusement, his endless curiosity, his insistence on seeing life and art always in a new way, emerge vividly. The result is in effect a study of his thought in motion as he sometimes playfully but always seriously responds to Retallack's informed and sympathetic questioning. As cellist Michael Bach joins the discussion to talk about his role in a Cage performance, a new work actually begins to unfold on the tape. The conversations at times seem to wander inconsequentially, but their impact as the record of a lively mind at work is all the greater as a result. At one point, Cage simultaneously welcomes the aleatoric nature of traffic noise while lamenting the inevitable air pollution that accompanies it. There are extensive appendixes of such things as timings and computer programs for some of Cage's works that will interest only specialists. For the most part, however, this is a highly accessible and personal introduction to a remarkable if elusive artist. (Oct.)
Library Journal
This compilation of Cage's most recent thoughts on art, language, and aesthetics is successful in large measure because of the thoughtful and intelligent questioning by Retallack, a poet and essayist with significant training in philosophy. Over the course of five lengthy conversations from 1990 to just 12 days before Cage's death in 1992, the two friends plumb some fascinating depths that reveal the unbuttoned landscape of Cage's mind. There is some repetition in these pages and quite a bit of minutiae that will interest only the most ardent aficionados. And most readers will doubtless lose patience with reprints of some of Cage's "mesostic texts"-writing in which comprehensibility is sacrificed to chance operations to create a sort of poetry for the eye. Still, the intellectual level is quite high, and even Cage's detractors will find themselves stimulated by many of the ideas presented on these pages. Recommended for both undergraduate and graduate-level collections.-Larry Lipkis, Moravian Coll., Bethlehem, Pa.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780819563118
  • Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
  • Publication date: 1/19/1996
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 408
  • Sales rank: 1,193,188
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

JOHN CAGE was born in Los Angeles in 1912. He studied music with Adolph Weiss, Arnold Schoenberg, and others, later collaborating with artists such as Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns. He died in 1992. JOAN RETALLACK is the author of eight books of poetry including Afterrimages (also published by Wesleyan) as well as numerous essays on John Cage, four of which appear in her critical volume, The Poethical Wager. MUSICAGE was chosen for the America Award in Belles-Lettres in the year of its publication. Retallack is the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Humanities at Bard College.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgements
Introduction: Conversations in Retrospect – Joan Retallack
WORDS
Art is Either a Complaint or Do Something Else – John Cage
Cage’s Loft, New York City: September 6-7, 1990 – John Cage and Joan Retallack
VISUAL ART
Cage’s Loft, New York City: October 21-23, 1991 – John Cage and Joan Retallack
MUSIC
Cage’s Loft, New York City: July 15-17 1992 – John Cage and Joan Retallack
July 18, 1992 – John Cage, Joan Retallack, and Michael Bach
July 30, 1992 – John Cage and Joan Retallack
Appendixes
A. Selected Cage Computer Programs
B. Mesostic Introduction to The First Meeting of the Satie Society
C, Writing through Ulysses (Muoyce II). Typescript Page from Part 17 based on the “Nightgown” section of Ulysses
D. Excerpts from Manuscript and Score of Two (1992)
E. Notated Time Bracket Sheets for Thirteen (1992) Pages 14, 15,16
F. Writing through Ulysses (Muoyce II), Part 5
G. IC Supply Sheet Marked by Cage with Red, Blue and Black Pencils
H. Excerpts from Score for Europera 5
I. Europera 5 at MOMA
J. Letter Outlining Plans for Noh-opera
K. Notated Time Bracket Sheets for 59 (1992), Pages 2 and 4
L. Project for Hanau Squatters
M. First Page of One (1991)
N. First Page of Ten (1991), Violin I
Index

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