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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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... can turn from these divertissements to Stravinsky’s music, as one forgets gossip for an exploration of, and delight in, realms of the highest creative thought. If only one could say the same about JohnCage! 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 ...

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​ , JohnCage 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 ...

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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... in the Catskills, was already extraordinary. The Maverick is more hermitage than concert hall: a wooden, barn-like structure, set – in 1952 at least – in several acres of woodland. Water Music by JohnCage, 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 ...


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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... JohnCage, 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 ...

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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... sticker ‘Contains Previously Unreleased Material’) of out-takes and rehearsal sessions, 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 ...

At the Hayward

Brian Dillon: ‘Invisible’

2 August 2012
... a pure void, more a palimpsest in reverse – in Jasper Johns’s words, an ‘additive subtraction’. Such a work has also, of course, to live in a world that may fill it with meaning or form; JohnCage 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 ...

At Tate Modern

Hal Foster: Robert Rauschenberg

1 December 2016
... This makes the Whites seem porous to the world and the Blacks closed to it, which is largely how they were received. In keeping with his own desire to suppress authorship and to invite indeterminacy, JohnCage 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 ...

The Lovely Redhead

Frederick Seidel

30 August 2012
... big bucks. This is about a smartphone Surrounded by so much noise It isn’t able to. No one is getting out of this alive. No one was celebrating noise Until the great homosexual American composer JohnCage 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 ...


Stephen Walsh: Philip Glass

6 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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... be without history, without system, a theft of the minimalist aesthetic without its technical infrastructure.The 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 ...

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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... be surprised at the extraordinary consistency of Paz’s poetry. There are other apparently non-mitigating factors too. He likes to combine ‘chance and the creative will’, and wrote a poem about JohnCage 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 ...

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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... of the Post-Modern gallery, the staff are laying down cement blocks according to instructions sent in by Carl André, while Samuel Beckett endlessly redistributes 16 stones among four pockets, and JohnCage 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 ...


Adam Shatz: Ornette Coleman

15 July 2015
... much beauty continues to exist here.’ Perhaps, he wondered, ‘it is because of the vileness, or call it adversity, that such beauty does exist.’ Baraka made the observation in his liner notes to John Coltrane’s album Live at Birdland, which includes ‘Alabama’, an elegy for the four girls murdered in the 1963 Birmingham Church bombing.I thought of Baraka’s words at New York’s Riverside ...

Complicated Detours

Frank Kermode: Darwin’s Worms by Adam Phillips

11 November 1999
Darwin's Worms 
by Adam Phillips.
Faber, 148 pp., £7.99, November 1999, 0 571 20003 6
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... it as something for which in one way or another we should live; as if lives were the material of fictions dependent on that end. He is keenly pro-life, and quotes, ultimately with approval, what JohnCage said in response to a complaint that there was too much suffering in the world – namely, that on the contrary there was just the right amount. This is theodicy with God left out, or replaced ...

At the Royal Academy

James Cahill: Dalí and Duchamp

14 December 2017
... brazen commercialism: the lowest point was his series of TV adverts for Lanvin chocolates and Alka-Seltzer in the 1960s and 1970s. When visiting Duchamp on holiday in Cadaqués, Richard Hamilton and JohnCage 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 ...

Velvet Gentleman

Nick Richardson: Erik Satie

3 June 2015
A Mammal’s Notebook: The Writings of Erik Satie 
edited by Ornella Volta, translated by Antony Melville.
Atlas, 224 pp., £17.50, June 2014, 978 1 900565 66 0
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... of a piece; Satie wrote the infuriating Vexations, a short, creepy-sounding motif which was intended to be repeated a mind-numbing 840 times. The piece wasn’t performed in full until 1963, when JohnCage managed it with a relay team of 11 pianists: it took 18 and a half hours. The relationship with Valadon was, as far as we know, the last sexual relationship Satie had.His despondency slowed down ...

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