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A John Cage Web Reliquary

Browse our web-exclusive materials, including videos of John Cage talking about and performing his music; a detailed timeline of events in Cage's life; some notable Cage quotes; interviews, and art.

Browse Features by Subject:
Videos | Interviews | Writings | Quotes | Timeline | Visual Art | Links

Featured Cage Videos

John Cage performs 4'33" (excerpt)

Written in 1952, 4'33" is Cage's most famous musical composition. It consists of the pianist going to the piano, and not hitting any keys for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. He uses his stopwatch to time this. The entire piece consists of silences — silences of different lengths, they say. 4'33" leaves almost no room for the pianist's interpretation: as long as he watches the stopwatch, he can't play it too fast or too slow; he can't hit the wrong keys; he can't play it too loud, or too melodramatically, or too subduedly. On the other hand, what you hear when you listen to 4'33" is more a matter of chance than with any other piece of music — nothing of what you hear is anything the composer wrote.

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John Cage Has A Secret

Part of John Cage's greatness and importance lie in the fact that he eschewed "greatness" and "importance." His irreverent attitude towards the establishment and his joyous experimentation are on full display in this clip from the popular 1960s TV show "I've Got A Secret."

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More Videos on the Web:

Icon Guides
For your convenience, we've designated some of these resources with navigational icons to help guide you through your interactive John Cage experience:

green circle = introductory  blue square = intermediate  black diamond = advanced

green circle 4'33" (performed by David Tudor)
green circle Rehearsal of Speech
blue square Opus 20 Modern Masterworks - Part 1
blue square Opus 20 Modern Masterworks - Part 2
blue square In the Name of the Holocaust
blue square Sonatas & Interludes
black diamond Listen... - Part 1
black diamond Listen... - Part 2
black diamond Beach Birds for Camera – Part 1
black diamond Beach Birds for Camera – Part 2
black diamond Beach Birds for Camera – Part 3
blue square green circle More Cage videos from Ubu Web

Interviews With Cage

Archived Audio and Transcripts of Interviews with John Cage

john cage and morton feldman
At Right: Composer Morton Feldman talks with John Cage.
green circle John Cage on "Ode to Gravity"
blue square John Cage with Jonathan Cott
black diamond John Cage with Morton Feldman
green circle page icon John Cage and Laurie Anderson
green circle page icon John Cage and John Held, Jr.
blue square page icon John Cage and Richard Friedman
blue square page icon John Cage and Paul Cummings
black diamond page icon John Cage on the Global Point of View
black diamond page icon John Cage and Art Lange

Writings by Cage

Letters, Essays, and Short Stories

"My father was an inventor. He was able to find solutions for problems of various kinds, in the fields of electrical engineering, medicine, submarine travel, seeing through fog, and travel in space without the use of fuel. He told me that if someone says "can't" that shows you what to do. He also told me that my mother was always right even when she was wrong."
green circle An Autobiographical Statement
green circle Short Stories (Indeterminacy)
green circle On Satie's "Vexations"
green circle Anarchic Harmony
blue square Interactive "Indeterminacy" Page
blue square About "Indeterminacy"
black diamond Extracts from "Silence"
black diamond Notes on "Roaratorio"

Cage Quotes

Some Notable Sayings by John Cage

john cage
"I have nothing to say / and I am saying it / and that is poetry / as I needed it"
"There is no noise, only sound. I haven't heard any sounds that I consider something I don't want to hear again, with the exception of sounds that frighten us or make us aware of pain. I don't like meaningful sound. If sound is meaningless, I'm all for it."
"I certainly had no feeling for harmony, and Schoenberg thought that that would make it impossible for me to write music. He said, 'You'll come to a wall you won't be able to get through.' So I said, 'I'll beat my head against that wall.'"
"I do what I feel it is necessary to do. My necessity comes from my sense of invention, and I try not to repeat the things I already know about."
"I myself enjoy things as long as they remain mysterious to me. When I'm able to understand them, to my satisfaction, that is to say thoroughly, then I'm through with them. I would like to leave things alive and mysterious, if I can."
"If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all."
"The whole idea of value judgment is a mistake and if you insist on having dessert all the time instead of eating your vegetables, then you can listen to just the sounds that please you. I like to listen to all sounds."
"For myself and my own experience now, I don't really need any music. I have enough to listen to with just the sounds of the environment. I listen to the sounds of 6th avenue."

A Cagean Timeline

Important Events in John Cage's Life

cage timeline
1912 John Cage is born into an Episcopalian family on September 5th in Los Angeles, California. His father is an inventor, and his mother is a housewife — whom Cage would later describe as having a "sense of society," but "never happy."
1929 Disillusioned with college, Cage drops out and spends the next 18 months in Europe, working as an architect's apprentice and dabbling in music.
1931 After reading Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," Cage is inspired to return to the United States and devote himself to learning music composition.
ca.1935 Cage begins sitting in on classes taught by Arnold Schoenberg. He forms a percussion ensemble and invites Schoenberg to one of his performances, but Schoenberg declines his invitations. Schoenberg later describes Cage as an "inventor of genius".
  Cage marries Xenia Andreyevna Kashevaroff.
  Cage becomes an assistant to film director Oskar Fischinger (and later composes the music for one of Fischinger's films). Cage begins experimenting with new sounds, vibrations, and textures.
ca.1937 Cage finds a job the Cornish School Arts in Seattle, Washington. In addition to discovering the profound impact of silence, he learns the ways of Zen Buddhism.
  When asked to write a piece for a dance by Syvilla Fort, Cage invents the "prepared piano" — an otherwise normal piano with various objects inserted between the strings, effectively transforming the instrument into a percussion orchestra.
1940 Cage composes "Living Room Music" for percussion and speech quartet. Oddly enough, percussion instruments were not used for the piece; instead, it was written for common objects one would find in his or her living room.
1943 One of Cage's most significant prepared piano works, "The Perilous Night," is composed. Cage called it an "autobiographical" piece, in that it expressed the anxiety he was experiencing in his personal life.
1945 Facing a crossroads over his sexual identity, Cage divorces his wife Xenia. He meets the choreographer Merce Cunningham, and embarks on a personal and professional relationship that continues for the rest of his life.
1948 With Cunningham by his side, Cage joins the faculty of Black Mountain College. It is there that he composes his most famous (and notorious) work, 4'33", which explores the ambient sounds of silence.
ca.1950 Cage begins experimenting with "chance" music, applying the ideas of Zen Buddhism to his work.
1951 Cage writes his first large-scale work, the Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra.
ca.1953 Cage moves to the country and gets involved the study of mushrooms. With the help of three friends, he founds the New York Mycological Society.
ca.1955 Cage begins collaborating with artists and designers who have little or no background in music, drawing on their creativity for his experimental compositions.
ca.1962 Cage begins publishing his music and writings, and begins to create some of his largest and most ambitious works.
1967 Cage creates his musical free-for-all, "Musicircus." Featuring multiple performers in a large space, the score directs everyone involved to simultaneously perform anything they want.
1969 Cage makes an impression on the modern art scene with his plexiglass-encased silkscreen creation, "Not Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel."
1975 Always close to nature, Cage writes "Child of Tree," an improvisatory work that uses plant material for instruments.
1976 The Boston Symphony premieres Cage's Quartets I-VIII, which use up to 93 players — but employ only four of them at any given time.
1981 Continuing to expand his musical resources, Cage writes "Thirty Pieces for 5 Orchestras." Each piece is no more than 75 seconds, and each orchestra is directed by a different conductor.
1982 "Wall to Wall Cage" is presented at Symphony Space in New York City, bringing together many of Cage's friends and collaborators for a 13-hour concert in honor of his 70th birthday.
1990 Cage continues to compose well into his 70s, writing "The Beatles 1962-1970," a six piano work comprised of random parts of Beatles songs.
1992 On August 12th, John Cage dies of a stroke in New York City at the age of 79. At the time of his death, plans were well underway for an 80th birthday celebration in Frankfurt. Three weeks later, the celebration goes on as planned, featuring a performance of the "Concert for Piano and Orchestra" with David Tudor — the pianist who had given the premiere performance of Cage's breakout work, 4'33", almost exactly 40 years before.
→ For a more detailed chronology of Cage's life,
visit the John Cage Compendium.

Visual Art by John Cage

Links to Online Galleries

John Cage Lithograph Detail (Carl Solway Gallery)
At Right: detail from "Not Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel, Lithograph A" at the Carl Solway Gallery.
Prints from the John Cage Trust
Crown Point Press Print Gallery
Mattress Factory Installation
John Cage at

Cage Links

More Resources on the Web

more links
Josh Ronsen's Cage Page
PBS' American Masters: John Cage
Cage's Publisher, Edition Peters
Chronological List of Cage's Works
Detailed Discography
Cage Filmography
The Prepared Piano of John Cage
A John Cage Compendium
Many of the resources listed on this page have been culled from Josh Ronsen's exhaustive research. You can browse a much more comprehensive list of Cage-related links at his site.
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