One hundred years after John Cage’s birth on 5 September 1912, Elizabeth Kerr makes a case for the artist as a musical revolutionary. He is infamous for his 4’33”, a work in three movements in which the performers play no notes. It’s easy to dismiss this as ridiculous, but to do so is to miss the point. Cage wanted his audience to notice the quality of the silence and in doing this to realise the fact that no two performances of the work will ever be the same. The concept was explored in visual art at the same time by painter Robert Rauschenberg who upset the art world with his white paintings.
But while 4’33” is Cage’s best known work, it by no means sums up his contribution to music. He was interested in silence, in noise, in found instruments and performance controlled by chance elements. He experimented with different techniques of playing instruments and perhaps most importantly invented the prepared piano, where objects placed inside the body of the piano influence the tone colour, pitch and percussive quality of the instrument.
Image: 'Whitework' inspired by 4'33"
CAGE: The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs - Cathy Berberian (sop), Bruno Canino (pno) (Wergo WER 60 054 5)
CAGE: First Construction in Metal - London Sinfonietta (WARP CD 144)
CAGE: Bacchanale -Jeanne Kirstein (prep pno) (New World 80664)
CAGE: Sonatas and Interludes, No 1 - Herbert Henck (prep pno) (ECM 1842)
CAGE: String Quartet in Four Parts - Arditti String Quartet (Mode 27)
CAGE: Music of Changes III - Martine Joste (pno) (Mode 147)
CAGE: Indeterminacy Pt 2 – John Cage (voice) (Year Zero/ Southbound)
CAGE: Europera 3 -Anne-Marie Ketchum (sop), Daisetta Kim (sop), Brian Pezzone (pno), Long Beach Opera (Mode 38)
CAGE: Five  - The Barton Workshop (Megadisc MDC 7815)