Tag Archives: John Cage

john cage quotes

“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

“There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.”

“It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else.”

“There is poetry as soon as we realize that we possess nothing.”

“The highest purpose is to have no purpose at all. This puts one in accordance with nature, in her manner of operation.”

“I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I’m doing.”

“It is not futile to do what we do. We wake up with energy and we do something. And we make, of course, failures and we make mistakes, but we sometimes get glimpses of what we might do next.”

“When you start working, everybody is in your studio- the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas- all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.”

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.”

“What I’m proposing, to myself and other people, is what I often call the tourist attitude – that you act as though you’ve never been there before. So that you’re not supposed to know anything about it. If you really get down to brass tacks, we have never been anywhere before.”

“Art’s purpose is to sober and quiet the mind so that it is in accord with what happens.

“Our intention is to affirm this life, not to bring order out of chaos, nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply to wake up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and desires out of its way and lets it act of it’s own accord.”


4’33”

Up and down the main street through downtown Santa Cruz there are similarly odd and intriguing performances of compositions by musical pioneer John Cage . It’s part of a celebration in honor of Cage’s 100th birthday (Cage died in 1992).
Cage studied classical music and later experimented with radically altering the landscape of musical possibilities. He’s inspired musicians across many genres, from new age to ambient and contemporary classical; avant-garde to noise and punk rock. Cage is perhaps best known for his experiments with silence and using techniques of randomness for composing music. He was deeply influenced by Zen Buddhism.
Perhaps his most famous composition, 4’33’’, is performed by musicians who sit with their instruments and don’t play a single note, for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. The piece was partly inspired by Cage’s visit to a soundproof room. He was surprised when he heard two sounds inside the silence (…and it wasn’t Simon and Garfunkel). A sound engineer told Cage the high-pitched sound was his nervous system and the low sound was his blood flowing.
In meditative practices of Buddhism and Hinduism, these sounds are sometimes referred to as “nada.” I’ve heard Vipassana teachers and Buddhist monastics talk about these “sounds within silence,” which can be concentrated upon to bring deeper focus and calm. Baba Hari Dass, a Hindu guru who has maintained a vow of silence since 1952, once wrote: “The inner sound, nada, can be that of a flute, bells, sitar…”
John Cage’s experiments with sound, silence, and music remind me of some musical—and spiritual—ideals to live by:

  • Music can come from anywhere: crickets, ocean waves, a cactus, a human heartbeat. We just have to remember to listen.
  • Keep opening to the possibility of hearing and making new music.
  • Listening to sounds without judgment is a great practice for increasing our capacity to listen to ideas and beliefs of others without moral judgment.
  • We each have the freedom to decide where we draw the line between music and not music (if we draw that line at all).

Excerpt of Article Sound, Silence and John Cage: Four Musical and Spiritual Ideals to Live By By John Malkin