John Cage at June in Buffalo, 1975
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John Cage (1912-1992), a composer, poet, and painter, is perhaps best known for his use of chance procedures in composition and his silent piece 4'32". His role in the development of chance composition lead many people to refer to him not as a composer, but as some sort of music philosopher. While this attitude is no longer the norm, questions about the role of the composer in compositions utilizing chance still resonate today. The resolution of such questions are not helped by the manner in which Cage presented himself. A typical lecture by or interview with John Cage was effectively pre-scripted. In essence he already prepared answers to the questions he expected would be asked. In some cases these answers were a personal defense mechanism; in others they were designed to disarm and so put interviewers at ease. Cage's use of patterned responses to predictable questions makes any opportunity to get a more candid portrait of Cage extremely valuable. One such occurrence was at the 1975 June in Buffalo New Music Festival. At the festival Cage was invited to give a series of lectures and attend a series of concerts devoted to his music. He devoted the first three of his lectures to discussing student works. However, following a performance of his music which he found offensive, Cage devoted his lecture the following day to discussing why the performance was unacceptable. This lecture provides an opportunity to see Cage grappling and struggling to come to terms with issues of compositional authority and performer freedom in the context of music composed using chance procedures. The myth about Cage and chance music in the wider audience for classical music is that he just put random notes on the page and the performers were simply free to play whatever notes they pleased, while in the academy the myth about Cage is that he had an omnivorous tolerance for anyone and anything. Cage's lecture makes it clear that neither of these myths is true. For Cage, the performer was not permitted to do whatever he or she wanted. Compositional intent still mattered. Even a composer as open and accepting as Cage felt he must draw the line somewhere and say "No, that isn't what I meant. I don't accept that."