Interview with John Cage (by art lange)

AL: Do you differentiate between chance operations by a performer, and
improvisation by a performer? Or do you see it as being the same thing.

JC: No, chance operations are a discipline, and improvisation is rarely a
discipline. Though at the present time it's one of my concerns, how to make
improvisation a discipline. But then I mean doing something beyond the
control of the ego. Improvisation is generally playing what you know, and
what you like, and what you feel. But those feeling and likes are what Zen
would like us to become free of.

AL: Do you think there is a place in your music for non-musical performers
--people without musical training -- to perform your compositions musically?

JC: Some of my compositions can be done that way.

AL: Do you think that would help escape the idea of an improviser performing
what he already knows, what he's familiar with, what he's familiar with, what
he's already played? Someone who isn't familiar with anything along those
lines might create something on the spur of the moment, not more original,
but perhaps fresher.

JC: No, I don't think so. Because when people don't know anything about music
and improvise it, as for instance Kurt Schwitters did, you get something that
is elementary from a musical point of view because it begins again from a
kindergarten level. Schwitters was fascinated by things like sequences and
repetitions, but beginning at another level, another pitch level -- and those
ideas are no longer necessary. And yet, from the point of view of a person
who had no musical experience, they're fascinating. That's what happens with
a good deal of electronic music now. Because the people who use electronics
for the most part skip the business of studying music and so, frequently,
like Pierre Schaeffer in France, they do things that are not really
interesting musically. Because they don't have any musical experience. I
don't mean that one has to study music to do interesting electronic music.
But what I do mean is that one shouldn't become fascinated by elementary
musical devices simply because one hasn't had any musical experience.

AL: Composer Ned Rorem has said "Omnipresence of music derives not from love
of sound, but from fear of silence." Do you think this is true?

JC: Silence is sound, so I don't know what he's saying.

AL: I think he's taking it at a different approach, say, people are afraid of
sounds they can't hear, they're afraid of that emptyness...

JC: What they are afraid of is they themselves not making a sound. Because
sounds are being made all around them. In fact they are making two sounds
themselves without hearing them -- the nervous system and the blood
circulating.

AL: Do you think there is too much sound around us constantly?

JC: No, I think there is just the right amount.


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(Excerpted from an interview conducted 10/4/77, first published in
'Brilliant Corners' Number 8.)