An Interview with John Cage: By Norma Beecroft

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John Cage
b. Los Angeles, Calif., 1912 – d. New York, N.Y., 1992

Interviewed by Norma Beecroft as part of her ebook, Conversations With Post World War II Pioneers of Electronic Music.
Recorded on audio cassette.
Digital transfer and editing: William Van Ree
Conversation held on October 18, 1977, New York

Without question one of the most controversial composers of the 20th Century. In his lifetime, John Cage was often dismissed as an incompetent and a fake. To respond to such charges, he had a sound musical background, having studied composition with Richard Buhlig, Adolph Weiss, Henry Cowell, Arnold Schoenberg and Edgar Varèse. The fact that his interests lay in the unusual and the experimental, from early use of percussion ensembles, ‘prepared pianos’, the use of silence, chance and indeterminate techniques, were certainly not simply whims, but carefully considered concepts.

Cage was one of the first composers in the United States to incorporate existing technology in his creative output, with his 1939 composition Imaginary Landscape No. 1, for variable speed phono-turntables, frequency recordings, muted piano and cymbal. When tape became available, he created Williams Mix in 1952, and in 1958 his work developed into Fontana Mix which was a score for either the production of one or more tape tracks or for any kind and number of instruments or, alternatively, prerecorded tape material to be performed in any way.

It is important to note that his continuing experimental activity introduced new areas to music, such as the use of noise, graphic notation, intermedia and happenings and indeterminacy in composition and performance. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the world of technology and music was the concept of live electronic music, an area which he pursued relentlessly and influenced many younger composers. This gentle human being stood as an example to younger generations for his unique ideas and for his encouragement of others to try new ways and means.

You can read the transcript of the interview, along with interviews of 22 other electroacoustic composers, by purchasing the ebook here.