MUSICAGE: Cage Muses on Words*Art*Music by John with Joan Retallack Cage

MUSICAGE: Cage Muses on Words*Art*Music

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A philosophical discourse embodying a lifetime's aesthetic explorations by infamous composer John Cage (1912-92). In three extended conversations just prior to the composer's death, poet Retallack quizzed Cage on his work. The result, this compendium of Cagean thought, will baffle those unversed in his unique mixture of Zen Buddhism, American pragmatism, and Utopian anarchism. Students of Cage, on the other hand, will find much here repeated from past interviews and writings. But Cage, as always, is good company, a master aphorist who has an endless supply of pithy sayings (""If in doing something you do it without regard to itself, but to hearing it, it then is music""). Cage describes his compositional method, using chance operations to move away from asserting the composer's personality over the work to a process of endless discovery (""If you work with chance operations, you're basically shifting--from the responsibility to choose . . . to the responsibility to ask""). It is Cage's ideal to create art that does not reflect life but is life; for this reason, he admires Mark Tobey's paintings, because they enabled him to discover art in the everyday. Like James Joyce, Cage is an endless punster, enjoying the pun because it embodies his credo of ""interpenetration and nonobstruction""; two meanings can exist in the same ""space"" without either negating the other. Finally, Cage uses art as a kind of self-therapy. His fear of performance is underscored by his description of it as ""immanent danger""; the composer fears his work will be misunderstood, while the performer fears playing it wrong. But if a composition is merely a set of possibilities, then every performance by necessity must be right; neither composer nor performer can fail. Cagey thoughts that will surely knot your brow.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1995
Page count: 458pp
Publisher: Wesleyan/Univ. Press of New England