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Discussion: Who was John Cage and why does he matter to improvisation?

Who was John Cage and why does he matter to improvisation?

From the 1940s onwards John Cage, avant-garde composer held an ambivalent and tenuous relationship with improvisation. Working from Sabine M Feisst's 2009 article, "John Cage and Improvisation: An Unresolved Relationship" (Hardcopies are available at the ICASP offices) there exists a number of interesting projects and bold interventions Cage brought to classical and experimental music.

With works, "perpetually in progress" John Cage's indeterminate compositions were the basis of improvisatory performances and central to how we think about improvisation. On improvisation, Cage's engagement oscillated between outright rejection (1950s/60s) and open embracement (1930/40s) and including renewed engagements in the 1970s. Cage's insights around group improvisation and his "radical emphasis on spontaneity and uniqueness" were directly related to both jazz and bebop, two musics rejected by Cage.

Click through these links for examples of pieces by John Cage

Sonata II for Prepared Piano

27 Sounds Manufactured in a Kitchen

Improvisation implies a deep connection between the personal and the communal, self and world. A “good” improviser successfully navigates musical and institutional boundaries and the desire for self-expression, pleasing not only herself but the listener as well.

– Rob Wallace