John Cage and the Mystification of Musical Silence

Jael Kraut

in Powers

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print February 2010 | ISBN: 9780823231560
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823235537 | DOI:

Series: The Future of the Religious Past

John Cage and the Mystification of Musical Silence

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This chapter analyzes the compositions of John Cage, a composer who uses silence with reference mysticism as a means of religious empowerment to unify humankind with the cosmos and nature. Cage sought to silence music step by step, culminating in his silent piece 4'33”. He reversed the status of the instrument, using non-musical instruments and the “prepared piano”, a piano transformed by adding bolts and other objects. Cage was fascinated with Indian aesthetics and with Zen Buddhism: the Buddhist ideal of the “negation of the will” prompted him to develop an aesthetic and spiritual silence in both his life and his work. Cage presumably became immersed in concern for a spiritualized silence and thus was blinded to how his historical situation affected his possibilities as a composer. Cage seeks a musical identification with nature, but the nature he has in mind is exceedingly manipulated.

Keywords: John Cage; silence; religious empowerment; cosmos; nature; music; prepared piano; negation of the will; aesthetics; mysticism

Chapter.  4713 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Religions

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