"I was obliged to find a radical way to work -- to get at the real, at the root of the matter," John Cage says in this trio of dialogues, completed just days before his death. His quest for the root of the matter led him beyond the bounds of the conventional in all his musical, written, and visual pieces. The resulting expansion of the definition of art -- with its concomitant emphasis on innovation and invention -- earned him a reputation as one of America's most influential contemporary artists. Joan Retallack's conversations with Cage represent the first consideration of his artistic production in its entirety, across genres. Informed by the perspective of age, Cage's comments range freely from his theories of chance and indeterminate composition to his long-time collaboration with Merce Cunningham to the aesthetics of his multimedia works. A composer for whom the whole world -- with its brimming silences and anarchic harmonies -- was a source of music, Cage once claimed, "There is no noise, only sounds." As these interviews attest, that penchant for testing traditions reached far beyond his music. His lifelong project, Retallack writes in her comprehensive introduction, was "dislodging cultural authoritarianism and gridlock by inviting surprising conjunctions within carefully delimited frameworks and processes." Consummate performer to the end, Cage delivers here just such a conjunction -- a tour de force that provides new insights into the man and a clearer view of the status of art in the 20th century.
This selection of over five hundred letters gives us the life of John Cage with all the intelligence, wit, and inventiveness that made him such an important and groundbreaking composer and performer. The missives range from lengthy reports of his early trips to Europe in the 1930s through his years with the dancer Merce Cunningham, and shed new light on his growing eminence as an iconic performance artist of the American avant-garde. Cage's joie de vivre resounds in these letters--fully annotated throughout--in every phase of his career, and includes correspondence with Peter Yates, David Tudor, and Pierre Boulez, among others. Above all, they reveal his passionate interest in people, ideas, and the arts. The voice is one we recognize from his writings: singular, profound, irreverent, and funny. Not only will readers take pleasure in Cage's correspondence with and commentary about the people and events of a momentous and transformative time in the arts, they will also share in his meditations on the very nature of art. A deep pleasure to read, this volume presents an extraordinary portrait of a complex, brilliant man who challenged and changed the artistic currents of the twentieth century.
Silence, John Cage's first book and epic masterpiece, was published in October 1961. In these lectures, scores, and writings, Cage tries, as he says, to find a way of writing that comes from ideas, is not about them, but that produces them. Often these writings include mesostics and essays created by subjecting the work of other writers to chance procedures using the I Ching. Fifty years later comes a beautiful new edition with a foreword by eminent music critic Kyle Gann. A landmark book in American arts and culture, Silence has been translated into more than forty languages and has sold over half a million copies worldwide. Wesleyan University Press is proud to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the book's publication with this special hardcover edition.
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