One of the monolithic names in modern music, it can be a daunting and fairly thankless task trying to apply yourself to the work of John Cage without prior introduction, particularly when many of the best bits are so scarely sighted on vinyl. One such occasion however is The Vinyl Factory’s recent reissue of the landmark electronic music compilation Cybernetic Serendipity Music, and to put this in some kind of context we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to tackle the rest of Cage’s catalogue and asked Chris May to pick out ten essentials for the novice and expert alike.
Words: Chris May
As his contemporaries William S. Burroughs and Jackson Pollock were to writing and painting, so John Cage was to music – part supreme-iconoclast, part futurist. Although he lived before the ascendancy of the digital revolution, Cage (born Los Angeles 1912, died New York 1992) anticipated it. His experiments with electronica and turntablism were decades ahead of their time. His use of chance-determined composition – in which the composer follows decisions made by computer-generated or otherwise-random numbers – set the stage for the algorithm-driven generative music being championed today by Brian Eno. His use of prepared piano, silence, ambient noise, pure noise, loops, symbols-based notation and multi-media was similarly prescient.
Here are ten essential recordings of Cage’s music made between 1942 and 1992. A few are so rare as to be near mythic. You can listen to the selection below in one go or hear them individually on the following pages.