Knowledge Questions: What is art? What is the role of the artist’s intentions when interpreting art?
Discovering uncharted sounds became Cage’s trademark. Where other composers heard noise, he heard potential. Pots. Drum brakes. Rubber duckies. It wasn’t provocation; it was necessity. The world was brimming with sounds musicians had never used before—it was as if all the world’s painters had agreed to restrict themselves to only a few colors. Cage heard every squeak and honk as a possible ingredient for music…
People thought 4’33” was a joke or some kind of avant-garde nose-thumbing. During a post-concert discussion, as Cage biographer David Revill notes, one local artist stood up and suggested, “Good people of Woodstock, let’s drive these people out of town.”
In the Maverick that night, one could likely hear the sound of the breeze in the trees, rain pattering lightly on the rooftop, the chirping of crickets, a dog barking aimlessly somewhere in the distance, the sound of bodies shifting their weight on creaky pine benches, the sound of breath being drawn and being expired.
This was music for John Cage. And unlike compositions designed to make the outside world fall away, here was a music that, when it engaged you, made the present world open up like a lotus blossoming in stop-motion photography. It was all very much in keeping with Cage’s Zen world view, which emphasized the power of unmediated experience and direct perception of what Cage called the “isness” of life.