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“… A refusal of psychology and  history … He was concerned with chance and open experience.”

I am in awe of people who can make music. I would liked to have been able to talk to John Cage about his experience when he used the I Ching in his music. creating process.  I always find the process of creating as relevant as the product.

“Music of Changes is a piece for solo piano by John Cage. Composed in 1951 for David Tudor, it was the first instrumental aleatoric piece Cage completed. The process of composition involved applying decisions made using the I Ching, a Chinese oracle book, to large charts of sounds, durations, dynamics, tempi and density. . .

. . . Music of Changes was the second fully aleatoric work Cage composed (the first is Imaginary Landscape No. 4, completed in April 1951), and the first instrumental aleatoric work by him. He was still using Magic Square-kind charts to introduce chance into composition, when, in early 1951, Christian Wolff presented Cage with a copy of the I Ching (Wolff’s father published a translation of the book at around the same time). This Chinese classic text is a symbol system used to identify order in chance events. For Cage it became a perfect tool to create chance-controlled compositions: he would “ask” the book questions about various aspects of the composition at hand, and use the answers to compose. In effect, the vast majority of pieces Cage completed after 1951 were created using the I Ching.

. . . The title of Music of Changes is derived from the title sometimes given to the I Ching,Book of Changes.” Cage set to work on the piece almost immediately after receiving the book.

. . . Music of Changes comprises four “books” of music. Cage used a heavily modified version of his chart system (previously used in Concerto for prepared piano). Every chart for Music of Changes is 64 by 64 cells, to facilitate working with the I Ching which has a total of 64 hexagrams. The I Ching is first consulted about which sound event to choose from a sounds chart, then a similar procedure is applied to durations and dynamics charts. Thus, a short segment of music is composed. Silences are obtained from the sounds charts: these only contain sounds in the odd-numbered cells. To introduce new material, all charts alternate between mobile and immobile states (the alteration governed by the I Ching as well); in the latter the chart remains unchanged, but in the former, once a particular cell is used, its contents is immediately replaced by something new.”

“John Milton Cage Jr. (September 5, 1912 – August 12, 1992) was an American composer. A pioneer of chance music, electronic music and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde and, in the opinion of many, the most influential American composer of the 20th century. He was also instrumental in the development of modern dance, mostly through his association with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was also Cage’s romantic partner for the most of their lives.”

The entire article on John Cage can be found on Wikipedia.

A note of personal interest in coincidence. John Cage died on my birthday, August 12th, as did William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) an English poet, painter and printmaker.

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6 Comments on John Cage – Music of Changes and I Ching

  1. […] John Cage – Music of Changes and I Ching […]

  2. […] Aldridge: [with a video […]

  3. […] Day is a Good Day è stata allestita seguendo le istruzioni casuali di un software ispirato da I Ching, un’antica filosofia di divinazione cinese che lo stesso Cage usava per creare le sue […]

  4. […] Cunningham is turning 90 this week. In a previous post I wrote about the musician, John Cage and his use of the I Ching in his work. I didn’t mention that John Cage was the romantic and […]

  5. pete S.No Gravatar says:

    Hi, nicely presented article about John Cage. I remember the name from music classes but your post gave me a better understanding, I think. Especially seeing the video you’ve included, which shows the way he scored some of his musical ideas, very much like writing for synthesizer sounds. Somehow, the compositions don’t seem as alien having seen how it’s charted; it’s like, “yes, what other way could you show that sound!” It’s fascinating to find he was using the I Ching for composition. I wonder how he decided what sounds to use in the charts of possible sounds assigned by the tosses.
    Lots to think about from your post, thanks.

  6. SlilohNo Gravatar says:

    Excellent post Adele. I knew who John Cage was but had no idea he used the I Ching to compose. Fascinating.


    Sliloh’s last blog post..My Personal Rainbow

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