Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Controversy of the day...

"If you develop an ear for sounds that are musical it is like developing an ego. You begin to refuse sounds that are not musical and that way cut yourself off from a good deal of experience." - John Cage

Discuss.

3 comments:

Andre said...
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Andre said...

This is true. The question is whether or not this is a "bad" thing. I say this from the perspective of one whose artistic life was saved, quite literally, by Cage's writings. Still, one *needs* an ego in order to strive for egolessness. So the question for me is not whether we "cut ourselves off from a good deal of experiences." We do. The question is how we decide on the breaks that we want, and deal with the breaks that we don't. 

Cage also writes about commitment, saying something like "every 'yes' that we commit to involves a vast array of 'no's to anything that gets in the way of that 'yes'." So which experiences do we strive to cut out? Not whether we cut out "non-musical" sounds, but how. this is a bit of a shift from the 40-minutes chance operation pieces involving flower pots at eastman, that's for sure. But a subtle one, I hope. =)

Jake said...

I envy you, Andre, for your in-depth exposure to Cage and experimental music in school. In my studies, the flute players and cellists got to dig into all kinds of really neat 20th C stuff, but for the singers, if it wasn't bel canto it wasn't worth doing. (Why is that, do you suppose?)

I think Cage is right on the money in that quote, but I also think that what we do with that way of thinking is at least as important, if not more. After all, part of the experiments in music that tried to explode our ideas of what music is (e.g.: "Gather a group of friends on a street corner and listen to the falling snow") are not what I would call music. But I think Cage is asking us to examine how we might know that, how we might define music.

I wonder if to the purely ego-less, everything is music? After all, it's common to describe the soughing of the wind through the branches as musical, especially when we're feeling particularly connected. However, as I experience life, I tend to draw a line between musical and music, the latter being an intentional human activity. "Musical" is such a broad term that can encompass the entirety of our sensory experience, but I've always thought Cage was on a tear against the norms of "music."

I suppose I have to wonder, though, what Cage meant by musical sounds, since that implies that the experience he warns against cutting yourself off from is not musical. Quite the contrary; I believe that he was urging us to a mystical state of being, one where the music of the spheres is not an abstract (and I'll tell you, having heard some seriously weird stuff, it ain't) but a tangible reality. Tied with that is the requirement to be mystical, to be ego-less as countless traditions would have us be, as only there can we experience that reality of musicalness. I think, after all, that the greatness and uniqueness of music is that it is a univerally human channeling of that state into an accessible, ego-bound world.