June 1, 2012

What is Music?

I believe that music is our most pertinent vessel for change in our world.

John Cage once said: “Everything we do is music.”

One of my favorite avante-garde composers, John Cage’s most famous musical composition is entitled “4’33”.” It is played at the piano and is divided into three movements. All of the notes are silent. The composition takes its name from the fact that it requires four minutes and thirty-three seconds to perform. The pianist uses a stopwatch to control his tempo.

John Cage proposed that music is a subjective experience—listening rather than hearing. The audience, intently listening for every little sound, on pins and needles—a faint cough, a squeaky chair—patiently waits for the music to begin. But the music is in the silence, always happening around us if we are willing to suspend our judgments and open our ears.

Cage’s first experiments involved altering standard instruments, such as putting plates and screws between a piano’s strings before playing it. Pieces such as “Imaginary Landscape No 4″ (1951) used twelve radios played at once and depended entirely on the chance broadcasts at the time of the performance for its actual sound. In “Water Music” (1952), he used shells and water to create another piece that was motivated by the desire to reproduce the operations that form the world of sound we find around us each day. With inspirations like Thoreau and Joyce, Cage began to take literary texts and transform them into music.

Music is an art form, which has a large influence in our personal emotions.

Different kinds of music make us feel different things, and music is an effective way to establish a mood or a presence. Mark Fisher, author of an essay in the New Statesman titled “Militant Tendencies Feed Music,” wrote:

The idea that music can change the world now seems hopelessly naive. Thirty years of neoliberalism have convinced us that there is no alternative; that nothing will ever change. Political stasis has put music in its place: music might “raise awareness” or induce us to contribute to a good cause, but it remains entertainment. Yet what of music that refuses this status? What of the old avant-garde idea that, to be politically radical, music has to be formally experimental?

In an interview in 2008 Neil Young said that he called his fellow band members before the tour and told them: “This is all I’m going to do, I won’t be doing anything else and I don’t want to sing any… pretty songs; we can only sing about war and politics and the human condition.”

Quotes I find inspiring on music; all quotes are by John Cage.

I remember loving sound before I ever took a music lesson. And so we make our lives by what we love. ~ “Lecture on Nothing” (1949)

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.” I said, “Well then, I’ll beat my head against that wall.” I quite literally began hitting things, and developed a music of percussion that involved noises.

If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then 16. Then 32. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.
~ Interview in Observer magazine (1982), repeated on several occasions

Which is more musical, a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school? Are the people inside the school musical and the ones outside unmusical? What if the ones inside can’t hear very well, would that change my question?
~ John Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings

For great hints on how to change the world through music, follow the link: http://www.musicteachershelper.com/blog/50-ways-music-can-change-the-world/

Lots of people who complained about us receiving the MBE received theirs for heroism in the war-for killing people. We received ours for entertaining other people. I’d say we deserve ours more.
~John Lennon

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Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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