John Cage

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Los Angeles, California
<p>Image: John Cage in 1921. Courtesy of the John Cage Trust.</p>

John Milton Cage was born in 1912 in Los Angeles, California. During the 1920s, Cage gained an interest in radio sparked by his father’s experimentation and innovation in the early stages of the technology. At age twelve, Cage began a successful weekly radio show about the Boy Scouts, which included news, piano music, and inspirational talks by invited guests.

Image: John Cage in 1921. Courtesy of the John Cage Trust.

Seattle, Washington

In 1938, John Cage joined the faculty of the Cornish School in Seattle, where he taught courses in modern dance composition and experimental music for composers. At the school he also began to experiment with percussion, compose using electronics, and develop the prepared piano – a piano that has had its sound altered by the placement of objects on or between the strings. The school also brought Cage into contact with dancer Merce Cunningham who became an important artistic collaborator and his life companion.

Video: Sonata II perfromed by Boris Berman taken from the Naxos recording of John Cages Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano.


Asheville, North Carolina: BMC
<p>Image:&nbsp; Hazel Larsen Archer, "John Cage at Black Mountain College" c. late 1940s. Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer and the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center</p>

John Cage taught composition at Black Mountain College during the summers of 1948 and 1952, and was in residence there during the summer of 1953. In his Theater Piece No. 1, performed at the college in August 1952, Cage himself stood on a ladder delivering a lecture that included silences; Merce Cunningham and other dances moved through the audience; David Tudor played the piano; Robert Rauschenberg suspended his white painting; Charles Olson and M.C. Richards read poems from ladders, a movie was projected; and a windup phonograph played records. The performance is often considered the first Happening: a performative, often nonlinear and improvisatory artistic event that engages the audience. Its name was coined in 1957 by Allan Kaprow, a former student of Cage’s.

Image:  Hazel Larsen Archer, "John Cage at Black Mountain College" c. late 1940s. Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer and the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center

New York, New York

During the 1950s, Cage taught at the New School of Social Research in New York City and created numerous compositions, with what became known as the New York School of Composers, which included other notable composers such as Earle Brown, Morton Feldman and Christian Wolff. During this time, Cage also continued his work with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. His work in composition established Cage’s reputation as a  musical innovator. In 1952, John Cage composed his most famous and influential composition, 4’33’’, whose score instructs the performer(s) not to play their instrument(s). This work captures the ambient sounds of the performance space, challenging notions of what silence is, and what music can be.

Video: John Cage "4'33". Lawrence Foster conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra

Middletown, Connecticut

John Cage was affiliated with Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, from 1960 until his death in 1992. In 1961, the Wesleyan University Press published a collection of Cage’s writings and lectures titled Silence: Lectures and Writings. During his long relationship with Wesleyan, Cage performed regularly on the campus, and collaborated with other members of the Wesleyan music faculty.

Video/Audio: "Atlas Eclipticalis": Live, Crowell Hall, Wesleyan University, Connecticut, 26 February 1988