John Cage: Composer, Artist, Zen Buddhist

Kay Larson’s Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism and the Inner Life of Artists explores the composer’s spiritual journey and philosophical transformation that effected his life, music, art, and writing. Caught in a society that rejected his music, his politics, and his sexual orientation, composer John Cage was transformed by Zen from an overlooked and somewhat marginal musician into the absolute epicenter of the avant garde. “Where the Heart Beats” highlights one of America’s most enduringly important artists.

To examine Cage’s earlier spiritual and philosophical influences try Begin Again by Kenneth Silverman which draws on interviews with John Cage’s contemporaries and friends and on the entire archive of his letters and writings, and including photographs and facsimiles of musical scores, Silverman gives a revelatory portrait of one of the most important cultural figures of the 20th century.

4’33”is one of Cage’s most famous, or some might say infamous, works. The piece, written for piano, consists of four minutes and 33 seconds of “assumed” silence. Cage’s controversial piece became the iconic statement of the meaning of silence in art and is a landmark work of American music.

In No such thing as silence :John Cage’s 4’33”, Kyle Gann, one of the nation’s leading music critics, explains4’33”as a unique moment in American culture and musical composition. Finding resemblances and resonances of4’33”in artworks as wide-ranging as the paintings of the Hudson River School and the music of John Lennon and Yoko Ono,he provides much-needed cultural context for this fundamentally challenging and often misunderstood piece. Gann also explores Cage’s craft, describing in illuminating detail the musical, philosophical, and even environmental influences that informed this groundbreaking piece of music. Having performed4’33”himself and as a composer in his own right, Gann offers the reader both an expert’s analysis and a highly personal interpretation of Cage’s most divisive work.

Carolyn Brown, ,a major dancer in the Cunningham Dance company, explores Cunningham’s technique, choreography, and experimentation with compositional procedures influenced by Cage. And she probes the personalities of these two men: the reticent, moody, often secretive Cunningham, and the effusive, fun-loving, enthusiastic Cage. Chance and Circumstance is an intimate chronicle of a crucial era in modern dance, and a revelation of the intersection of the worlds of art, music, dance, and theater that is Merce Cunningham’s extraordinary hallmark.

The Arts Division and the Monroe County Library System also have several of John Cage’s recordings.

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