We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE


CAGE MUSES on Words * Art * Music

John Cage

Publication Year: 2011

"I was obliged to find a radical way to work -- to get at the real, at the root of the matter," John Cage says in this trio of dialogues, completed just days before his death. His quest for the root of the matter led him beyond the bounds of the conventional in all his musical, written, and visual pieces. The resulting expansion of the definition of art -- with its concomitant emphasis on innovation and invention--earned him a reputation as one of America's most influential contemporary artists.

Joan Retallack's conversations with Cage represent the first consideration of his artistic production in its entirety, across genres. Informed by the perspective of age, Cage's comments range freely from his theories of chance and indeterminate composition to his long-time collaboration with Merce Cunningham to the aesthetics of his multimedia works. A composer for whom the whole world -- with its brimming silences and anarchic harmonies -- was a source of music, Cage once claimed, "There is no noise, only sounds." As these interviews attest, that penchant for testing traditions reached far beyond his music. His lifelong project, Retallack writes in her comprehensive introduction, was "dislodging cultural authoritarianism and gridlock by inviting surprising conjunctions within carefully delimited frameworks and processes." Consummate performer to the end, Cage delivers here just such a conjunction -- a tour de force that provides new insights into the man and a clearer view of the status of art in the 20th century.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (142.7 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (92.1 KB)
pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

pdf iconDownload PDF (78.5 KB)
pp. ix-x


pdf iconDownload PDF (100.7 KB)
pp. xi-xii

read more

Introduction: Conversations in Retrospect

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.1 MB)
pp. xiii-xlviii

Not long after John Cage died, I received a phone call from a scholar who was writing an essay on Cage's Europems. He told me it had just taken him two days to put everything in the past tense. Through no fault at all of that very nice man, I found this chilling. I vowed I would never put anything having to do with Cage...

I. Words

read more

Art Is Either a Complaint or Do Something Else

pdf iconDownload PDF (777.5 KB)
pp. 3-42

A substantial part of the first conversation in M U S I C A G E is devoted to John Cage's methods in composing this lecture-poem, but I'd like to make a couple of suggestions for the reader unfamiliar with his mesostic texts. (Texts structured along a string of capital letters running down their middle.) It may be helpful to think of this piece as a kind of linguistic fugue, a canonic and recombinatory interplay of three voices — that of Jasper...

read more

Cage's Loft, New York City: September 6–7, 1990

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.1 MB)
pp. 43-80

I arranged to tape this conversation with John Cage for publication in the Washington D.C. literary journal Aerial. The editor, Rod Smith, was planning a special issue featuring Cage's work with language and demonstrating, via juxtaposition, its connection with contemporary experimental poetry in America. What follows appeared in Aerial 6/7 along...

II. Visual Art

read more

Cage's Loft, New York City: October 21–23, 1991

pdf iconDownload PDF (5.1 MB)
pp. 83-166

This conversation begins with an attempt to sketch out a chronology of Cage's involvement with visual art. At the time, Cage said he might forget to include certain things, but we agreed we wouldn't worry because we could fill them in later when we went over the transcript. Cage died before we had a chance to do this. As it happened, we soon turned...

III. Music

read more

Cage's Loft, New York City: July 15–17, 1992

pdf iconDownload PDF (4.3 MB)
pp. 169-245

On the Saturday before we taped the following conversation, John Cage was mugged in his apartment by a man who claimed over the intercom to be from UPS. Cage was shaken by this experience but, not surprisingly, did not want it to interfere with anything scheduled for the coming week...

read more

July 18, 1992

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.3 MB)
pp. 246-290

During the summer of 1992, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City devoted its Summergarden music series to the work of John Cage. Paul Zukofsky was Artistic Director for the series. On the evening of July 17, the cellist Michael Bach performed Cage's One8 in the MOMA sculpture garden.1 After the concert I suggested to John Cage that...

read more

July 30, 1992

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.2 MB)
pp. 291-312

In the weeks before this conversation took place, Cage and I had talked on the phone about, among other things, variations in baking the almond torte cookies he liked so much, and the materials on nanotechnology he had received from the Foresight Institute in Palo Alto. The Foresight Institute is dedicated to reflecting on potential uses and abuses...


pdf iconDownload PDF (151.6 KB)
pp. 313-314

A. Selected Cage Computer Programs

pdf iconDownload PDF (85.9 KB)
p. 315-315

B. Mesostic Introduction to The First Meeting of the Satie Society

pdf iconDownload PDF (74.5 KB)
pp. 316-318

C. Writing through Ulysses (Muoyce II). Typescript Page from Part 17 based on the "Nighttown" section of Ulysses

pdf iconDownload PDF (81.3 KB)
p. 319-319

D. Excerpts from Manuscript and Score of Two[sup(6)] (1992)

pdf iconDownload PDF (466.3 KB)
pp. 320-327

E. Notated Time Bracket Sheets for Thirteen (1992), Pages 14, 15, 16

pdf iconDownload PDF (261.5 KB)
pp. 328-330

F. Writing through Ulysses (Muoyce II), Part 5

pdf iconDownload PDF (122.3 KB)
p. 331-331

G. IC Supply Sheet Marked by Cage with Red, Blue, and Black Pencils

pdf iconDownload PDF (136.4 KB)
p. 332-332

H. Excerpts from Score for Europera 5

pdf iconDownload PDF (353.7 KB)
pp. 333-339

I. Europera 5 at MOMA

pdf iconDownload PDF (23.2 KB)
p. 340-340

J. Letter Outlining Plans for Noh-opera

pdf iconDownload PDF (78.2 KB)
p. 341-341

K. Notated Time Bracket Sheets for 58 (1992), Pages 2 and 4

pdf iconDownload PDF (156.8 KB)
pp. 342-343

L. Project for Hanau Squatters

pdf iconDownload PDF (64.0 KB)
p. 344-344

M. First Page of One[sup(8)] (1991)

pdf iconDownload PDF (46.5 KB)
p. 345-345

N. First Page of Ten (1991), Violin 1

pdf iconDownload PDF (64.1 KB)
p. 346-346


pdf iconDownload PDF (1.9 MB)
pp. 347-361

About the Authors

pdf iconDownload PDF (86.6 KB)

E-ISBN-13: 9780819571861
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819552853

Page Count: 408
Publication Year: 2011