john cage applying ‘what would happen’ if to music

There’s a beautiful piece by Alex Ross in this week’s New Yorker this week about avant garde artist John Cage, who had a profound influence on our understanding of what music can be. Here’s a chunk that knocked us out:

“One a simpler level, Cage had an itch to try new things. What would happen if you sat at a piano and did nothing? If you chose among an array of musical possibilities by flipping a coin and consulting the I Ching? If you made music from junkyard percussion, squads of radios, the scratching of pens, an amplified cactus? If you wrote music for dance –Merce Cunningham was Cage’s longtime partner–in which dance and music went their separate ways? If you took at face value Eric Satie’s conceit that his piano piece “Vexations” could be played eight hundred and forty times in succession? Cage had an innocent, almost Boy Scout-like spirit of adventure. As he put it, ‘Art is a sort of experimental station in which one tries out living.'”

It shows just how far the simple question “What would happen if” can take you.

You can see the range of Cage’s work in many YouTube videos. Our favorite is this 1960 appearance on This is Your Life, a popular TV game show, in which he performs his composition “Water Walk”…Watch Cage’s work starting to change our culture…fifty years ago!

In the video below, Cage talking about sound completely changed our perception of traffic noise, which we’ve always found terribly irritating…

It’s much more pleasurable now.

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