John Cage

John Cage, 1912-1992

John Cage was a composer who pioneered the use of chance, non-standard use of instruments, and indeterminacy in music. 

His best known work is the 1952 composition 4’33’’. The title defines the length of the period in which the performers make no deliberate sound. This is not, as often assumed, “four minutes and 33 seconds of silence” – the music is all the sounds of the environment that are heard by the audience that occur while the musicians are simply present for the duration.

Cage invented his own musical notations (see below from Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, 1958) that require performers to decide for themselves how they should be realised with their instrument. The key ideas were always chance and the interpreter’s free choice. 

From 1957 to 1959 Cage taught classes in experimental composition at the New School for Social Research in New York City. These were attended many of the people who were to become central to Fluxus, including George Brecht, La Monte Young, Jackson Mac Low, Al Hansen, Dick Higgins, and Alison Knowles. (John Cage, sometimes called the ‘father of Fluxus’, said he preferred to be called its uncle.)