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Cage’s Cage

Christopher Reid, 7 August 1980

Empty Words: Writings ‘73-’78 
by John Cage.
Marion Boyars, 187 pp., £12, June 1980, 0 7145 2704 1
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... of, and delight in, realms of the highest creative thought. If only one could say the same about John Cage! The quality of his achievement is still in dispute, and there are some who would doubt that he has contributed anything of substance to the music of his time – which, however, is not to say that he has contributed nothing. A kind of Diogenes or ...

I have nothing to say and I am saying it

Philip Clark: John Cage’s Diary, 15 December 2016

The Selected Letters of John Cage 
edited by Laura Kuhn.
Wesleyan, 618 pp., £30, January 2016, 978 0 8195 7591 3
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Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse) 
by John Cage, edited by Richard Kraft and Joe Biel.
Siglio, 176 pp., £26, October 2015, 978 1 938221 10 1
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... By 1963​ , John Cage had become an unlikely celebrity. Anyone who knew anything about music – who had perhaps followed the perplexed reviews in the New York Times – could tell you how he had managed to transform the piano into a one-man percussion ensemble by wedging nails, bolts and erasers between its strings; or how he had – ‘and you’re never gonna believe this’ – somehow composed silent music ...

Rain, Blow, Rustle

Nick Richardson: John Cage, 19 August 2010

No Such Thing As Silence: John Cage’s 4'33" 
by Kyle Gann.
Yale, 255 pp., £16.99, April 2010, 978 0 300 13699 9
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... barn-like structure, set – in 1952 at least – in several acres of woodland. Water Music by John Cage, a Californian composer whose recent work had been feted in New York, opened the programme and baffled its audience. It involved Tudor performing various actions at seemingly random intervals: blowing a duck-call, tuning a radio, shuffling and ...


Paul Driver, 7 January 1993

The Roaring Silence: John Cage, A Life 
by David Revill.
Bloomsbury, 375 pp., £22.50, September 1992, 0 7475 1215 9
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... John Cage, who died immediately after this book intended to honour his 80th birthday was published, was a man marvellously indulged and humoured. Perhaps no one among 20th-century buffoons accumulated so much intellectual capital or secured such wide forbearance, and few have been so famous. He was included in every reckoning of modern music’s development and achievement and granted a potent influence on artists in diverse media and of all ages ...

The Style It Takes

Mark Ford: John Cale, 16 September 1999

What’s Welsh for Zen? The Autobiography of John Cale 
by Victor Bockris.
Bloomsbury, 272 pp., £20, January 1999, 0 7475 3668 6
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... although it seems no live recordings survive from their heyday – that is, before Lou Reed kicked John Cale out of the band, ending three years of almost symbiotic closeness. John Cale was born in the small Welsh coal town of Garnant, between Swansea and Carmarthen, in 1942. His father was a miner; his mother had worked in ...

At the Hayward

Brian Dillon: ‘Invisible’, 2 August 2012

... Such a work has also, of course, to live in a world that may fill it with meaning or form; John Cage had already observed of some white paintings of Rauschenberg’s that they were ‘landing strips’ for light and shadow. Cage, whose 4’33” is just the most notorious instance of an apparently silent work ...

The Lovely Redhead

Frederick Seidel, 30 August 2012

... out of this alive. No one was celebrating noise Until the great homosexual American composer John Cage Discovered the great American sound of road rage, But with no automobile involvement, and lots of silence. It’s the roar of a subway car Filled with silent New Yorkers silently snapping their fingers To the beat coming out of an earbud in one ...

Real isn’t real

Michael Wood: Octavio Paz, 4 July 2013

The Poems of Octavio Paz 
edited and translated by Eliot Weinberger.
New Directions, 606 pp., £30, October 2012, 978 0 8112 2043 9
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... factors too. He likes to combine ‘chance and the creative will’, and wrote a poem about John Cage using the I Ching. He said he composed the opening lines of his great work Sunstone (1957) ‘in a state that was almost like sleepwalking’, and added that he was ‘shocked that those lines later struck [him] as beautiful’. But then the ...

Post-Modern Vanguard

Edward Mendelson, 3 September 1981

After the Wake: An Essay on the Contemporary Avant-Garde 
by Christopher Butler.
Oxford, 177 pp., £7.95, November 1980, 0 19 815766 5
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... in by Carl André, while Samuel Beckett endlessly redistributes 16 stones among four pockets, and John Cage copies a star-atlas onto music paper. In the messier room across the hall, Karlheinz Stockhausen untunes a synthesiser, while William Burroughs randomly folds and cuts up his prose, and Robert Rauschenberg pushes a stuffed goat through an old ...

Your hat sucks

Gill Partington: UbuWeb, 1 April 2021

Duchamp Is My Lawyer: The Polemics, Pragmatics and Poetics of UbuWeb 
by Kenneth Goldsmith.
Columbia, 328 pp., £20, July 2020, 978 0 231 18695 7
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... the iconic and rare-as-hen’s-teeth ‘Multimedia Magazine in a Box’ with work by Andy Warhol, John Cage, John Lennon and Roland Barthes. There’s no shortage of big names mixed in with the obscure stuff – but they’re often not doing what you might expect. As well as Slonimsky’s hymn to Castoria, there are ...


Stephen Walsh: Philip Glass, 7 May 2015

Words without Music: A Memoir 
by Philip Glass.
Faber, 416 pp., £22.50, April 2015, 978 0 571 32372 2
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... situation now is very different. At the age of 78, and with the possible exception of John Adams, Glass can be regarded as the most famous – certainly the most successful – of all the composers who emerged from the minimalist revolution of the 1960s. Perhaps because he shed the technical apparatus of such iconic pieces as Reich’s Drumming ...

At Tate Modern

Hal Foster: Robert Rauschenberg, 1 December 2016

... were received. In keeping with his own desire to suppress authorship and to invite indeterminacy, John Cage called the White Paintings ‘airports’ for ambient accidents of light, shadow and dust. ‘If one were sensitive enough that you could read [them],’ Rauschenberg added, ‘you would know how many people were in the room, what time it was, and ...

At the Royal Academy

James Cahill: Dalí and Duchamp, 14 December 2017

... in the 1960s and 1970s. When visiting Duchamp on holiday in Cadaqués, Richard Hamilton and John Cage would try to avoid having to meet Dalí, whose villa was close by, and their hauteur is still felt by art historians and curators: Dalí was marginalised at the Hayward Gallery’s Undercover Surrealism exhibition in 2006, and at Tate Modern’s ...

At Tate Modern

Eleanor Nairne: Nam June Paik, 21 November 2019

... Galerie 22 in Düsseldorf in November 1959. In a letter that year, he explained that Hommage à John Cage: Music for Audiotapes and Piano was composed around three ten-minute movements, each containing a number of cultural references. The first combined Duchamp, Dostoevsky and Kurt Schwitters. ‘It proves,’ he wrote, ‘that the sublime is ...

Liberation Music

Richard Gott: In Memory of Cornelius Cardew, 12 March 2009

Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished 
by John Tilbury.
Copula, 1069 pp., £45, October 2008, 978 0 9525492 3 9
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... to fill in the details of his life, written with affection, humour and perspicacity by the pianist John Tilbury. Tilbury was Cardew’s friend and colleague, and a one-time (and part-time) fellow-traveller on the Maoist road; he has spent a quarter of a century writing this book. Aficionados will love his account; others might have preferred a more succinct ...

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