About the artist:
John Milton Cage Jr. (September 5, 1912 – August 12, 1992) was an American composer and music theorist. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde. Critics have lauded him as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. He was also instrumental in the development of modern dance, mostly through his association with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was also Cage's romantic partner for most of their lives. Cage is perhaps best known for his 1952 composition 4′33″, which is performed in the absence of deliberate sound; musicians who present the work do nothing aside from being present for the duration specified by the title. The content of the composition is not "four minutes and 33 seconds of silence," as is often assumed, but rather the sounds of the environment heard by the audience during performance. The work's challenge to assumed definitions about musicianship and musical experience made it a popular and controversial topic both in musicology and the broader aesthetics of art and performance. Cage was also a pioneer of the prepared piano (a piano with its sound altered by objects placed between or on its strings or hammers), for which he wrote numerous dance-related works and a few concert pieces. The best known of these is Sonatas and Interludes (1946–48). His teachers included Henry Cowell (1933) and Arnold Schoenberg (1933–35), both known for their radical innovations in music, but Cage's major influences lay in various East and South Asian cultures. Through his studies of Indian philosophy and Zen Buddhism in the late 1940s, Cage came to the idea of aleatoric or chance-controlled music, which he started composing in 1951. The I Ching, an ancient Chinese classic text on changing events, became Cage's standard composition tool for the rest of his life. In a 1957 lecture, Experimental Music, he described music as "a purposeless play" which is "an affirmation of life – not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we're living". Variations III, No. 14, a 1992 print by Cage from a series of 57. Although Cage started painting in his youth, he gave it up in order to concentrate on music instead. His first mature visual project, Not Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel, dates from 1969. The work comprises two lithographs and a group of what Cage called plexigrams: silk screen printing on plexiglas panels. The panels and the lithographs all consist of bits and pieces of words in different typefaces, all governed by chance operations. From 1978 to his death Cage worked at Crown Point Press, producing series of prints every year. The earliest project completed there was the etching Score Without Parts (1978), created from fully notated instructions, and based on various combinations of drawings by Henry David Thoreau. This was followed, the same year, by Seven Day Diary, which Cage drew with his eyes closed, but which conformed to a strict structure developed using chance operations. Finally, Thoreau's drawings informed the last works produced in 1978, Signals. Between 1979 and 1982 Cage produced a number of large series of prints: Changes and Disappearances (1979–80), On the Surface (1980–82), and Déreau (1982). These were the last works in which he used engraving. In 1983 he started using various unconventional materials such as cotton batting, foam, etc., and then used stones and fire (Eninka, Variations, Ryoanji, etc.) to create his visual works. In 1988–1990 he produced watercolors at the Mountain Lake Workshop. The only film Cage produced was one of the Number Pieces, One11, commissioned by composer and film director Henning Lohner who worked with Cage to produce and direct the 90-minute monochrome film. It was completed only weeks before his death in 1992. One11 consists entirely of images of chance-determined play of electric light. It premiered in Cologne, Germany, on September 19, 1992, accompanied by the live performance of the orchestra piece 103. Throughout his adult life, Cage was also active as lecturer and writer. Some of his lectures were included in several books he published, the first of which was Silence: Lectures and Writings (1961). Silence included not only simple lectures, but also texts executed in experimental layouts, and works such as Lecture on Nothing (1949), which were composed in rhythmic structures. Subsequent books also featured different types of content, from lectures on music to poetry—Cage's mesostics. Cage was also an avid amateur mycologist. He co-founded the New York Mycological Society with four friends, and his mycology collection is presently housed by the Special Collections department of the McHenry Library at the University of California, Santa Cruz.