Response to John Cage's Experimental Music

In Experimental Music, John Cage summarizes his philosophy of aleatoric music and removing subjectivity from the compositional process. By referencing emotions stirred by mountains, rain, and forests, he also advocates forargues that naturally occurring (found) sounds being are inherently musical (98). Cage compares this idea to modern sculptures that imply volume (e.g. Picasso’s Figure and Smith’s Amusement Park). In these works, the viewer’s optical experience is comprised not only of the work’s materials, but also of images coming through the sculptures’ negative spaces from the background: other works, security guards, etc. Through this lens, the composer might consider naturally occurring sounds, otherwise considered background noise, as foreground. Cage also references technological advances in music, namely those associated with musique concrète, as a timely reason for expanding our palette of musicality.

I found Cage to approach sound with a sacred sensibility. Chance operations are his key to surrendering control over process and acting as more of a vessel through which the world sends us its music. He also expands the lexicon of what is considered musical. I greatly value Cage, but I see a problem with the philosophy of “everything is art”. If that is true, how do we distinguish art from non-art? Some artists might reference this “everything is art” idea in order to escape criticism. I believe Cage is a philosopher who used extremeness to communicate an idea. He is encouraging us to explore sound and expand our lexicon of what we consider musical. This ties in to Rauschenberg’s White Paintings, works that “Cage referred to as landing strips for dust particles, light, and shadow” (Foster et al., Art Since 1900, 432). In this case, dust, light, and shadow are background elements that are brought to the foreground by Rauschenberg’s blankness. Rauschenberg and Cage demonstrate how the use of chance operations can be used to relinquish control, thus pushing back against the autographical individualism of the Abstract Expressionists.