Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Music ready-made

What's going on here? A popular 1960's TV show featuring John Cage.* Though nobody really seems to understand the music, they're having a good time. Oblivious to laughter, the dapper Cage goes about his synchronized routine, in character, as if out of a Buster Keaton movie.

Cage could care less. For him music is like Zen: It happens. Someone coming from the received tradition of serious music performance could retort that Cage's performance amounts to crass entertainment. He would retort that entertainment is part of life- as music is. So, is Cage's performance successful?

nothing is accomplished by writing a piece of music
" " " " hearing " " " "
" " " " playing " " " "
our ears are
in excellent condition*

He always had in mind this idea that music can be a vehicle for shocking humor. For instance, 4'33" is a big (silent) joke on the Western tradition of performance itself. Here is a visual equivalence:

What is Cage using in Water Walk, above, if not duchampian ready-mades? 
*Taken from John Cage's Silence (1961).