Obituary: John Cage

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The Independent Online
JOHN CAGE's writings are as experimentally stimulating to perform as his music, writes Professor Eric Mottram. In fact his sound inventions flow between customarily separate forms of music, poetry, discursive prose and visual forms - including, particularly, the puzzles of acrostics.

Cage's compositional procedures in all his arts included chance, indeterminacy, and the I Ching. His books of analysis of music, painting, and compositional theory - such as Silence (1961), and A Year from Monday (1967) - are as formally inventive as his collection of visual or graphic forms for music in Notations (1969). His sounds for Merce Cunningham's dance married well with Robert Rauschenberg's decor and lighting, for Cage was a pioneer of the theatre of mixed means. His etchings of 1978-82 could well be musical graphics or scores. Notations includes an acrostic structure entitled 'Composition in Retrospect' in which the acrostic spine for the six-line word structures consists of the repeated words Method Intention Discipline Notation Indeterminacy Penetration Imitation Devotion Circumstance - and these are the basis of his conceptual life. He called this, his favourite later writing form, 'mesostic'. M: writings '67- '72 contains such work on bases taken from Cunningham, Marcel Duchamp and others. Cage's Diary: how to improve the world (you will only make matters worse), beginning in 1965 and continuing throughout most of his life, is notated in various types and type- densities, ideally in colours, beyond greys and blacks. It includes a wide range of sources, and Cage was a highly informed man. Empty Words: writings '77-78 and X: writings '79-'82 continued these formulations.

For The Birds (1981) consists of dialogues with Daniel Charles. This title, Cage said, is not only a joke - and he was a very humorous man: 'I am for the birds, not for the cages in which people sometimes place them.' This could be Cage's philosophy in brief, or what James Joyce called a 'notshall'. In fact he devoted one whole book in 1978 to mesostics based on a reading of Finnegans Wake. Theme and Variations (1982) is a collection of investigative mesostics on the names of 15 men most significant in his life and work: figures in painting, music, philosophy, dance, invention and architecture.

The maxims of the introduction to Theme and Variations are as good an introduction to Cage as possible, including: :'A Need For Poetry', 'Anonymity of Selfless Work (ie, not self-expression)', 'No Ideas of Order', 'Art's Self- Alteration' and 'Goal is not to have a goal'.