October 9, 13, & 14 1997
Indeterminacy in music is represented by three main tendencies:
- Chance music - indeterminacy at the level of composition. During
the writing of the piece, the composer employs a chance procedure. Once
the work is finished, the score is followed exactly in the same way all
traditional music scores are. Representative composer: John Cage.
- Aleatory music - indeterminacy at the level of performance. The
performer is asked to make decisions which will affect either details or
even the form of the piece. Representative composers: Pierre Boulez,
Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio, etc.
In many instances elements of chance music and aleatory music coexist
in the same work. (John Cage).
- Stochastic music - indeterminacy at the level of composition but
involving strict mathematical tools (stochastic distributions).
Representative composer: Iannis Xenakis.
John Cage: Born 1912, died 1992.
- Early works
- The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs
- prepared piano
- Schoenberg and Cage
- on silence (the use of, the anechoic chamber)
- the role of music according to the Indian master:
to calm the spirit, to get it ready for
receiving the Divine inspiration
- Chance music.
- How it is done:
- draw a list of elements to be used
- determine some rules/limits in using them
- to make choices, use a chance procedure such as:
- flip coins
- throw dice
- I Ching (Cage)
- computer program modeling I Ching (Cage/Hiller)
- use impurities in manuscript paper to
determine where the notes are
- use star atlas: location of stars determine
location of note in the score
- Why would someone write music this way ?
- to create a music which is formless, without structure
- to put some distance between the composer (his/her
personal taste, conditionings, etc.) and work
- to write music which is not based on causal,
- to liberate the sounds (Cage) and let
them be themselves.
- to get away from the traditional role of the composer
as an obnoxious person who tells everybody what to
When writing chance music, a composer leaves many aspects
of the composition to chance but still has to make
some subjective decisions such as: to determine the
length of the piece or to specify (or not) the
Cage wants us to listen to individual sounds out of
the contex of a melody, texture, etc. and remarks
that there would be no need for musicians if we had
ears (i.e. if we were aware of our sonic environment). Implied
here is also the idea that one does not need a special training
to produce music and that music is whatever we decide to call
by that name and listen to as such.
Cage's music is an example of music in which the philosophy, the ideas
behind the composition, become more important. Instead of a
narrative and a message of local importance (politics, emotions, etc.)
the artist is concerned with delivering a world view
- Zen Buddhism - religion, philosophy, way of life. John Cage became
interested in and influence by it in the late 1940s. He attended D.T.
Suzuki's lectures at Columbia University. Here are a few "features"
expressed in a rather succinct and superficial way:
- Big Mind: the existence of a universal potential for consciousness
- Small Mind: our mind, part of the Big Mind
- Ta Tvam Asi, "you are all" or "all is me", a Vedic
- Errasing the difference between subject and object: a theme
sponsored also by contemporary Physics (Quantum Theory). An
object's existence depends on subjective perception (consciousness).
Fields of mutual influence.
- satori or sudden illumination
- rational thinking, words, concepts, logic, causality/determinism
get in the way of a true understanding
- these are like "crutches" our mind needs in order to understand
the world and not actual featurs of the world
- spontaneity (see the Japanese tea ceremony, martial arts, etc.)
- non-clinging/open mindness: one should be aware and receptive
but not attach him/herself to anything
- the absurd and the irrational as a (sometimes shocking) alternative.
- non hierarchical, non discriminating, non judgemental thinking.
- Zen "pedagogy": koans (meaningful anecdotes/short stories) and
D. T. Suzuki, his life and times. Cage's recillection of his lectures at
Columbia University and his speech drowned by the airpalnes landing at
Listen and interpret John Cage's anecdotes in Indeterminacy
- Western roots: DADA
- Satie and his Vexations, to be repeated 840
- Marcel Duchamp, a pioneer of chance music. His Bride
Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even: Erratum Musical
- "The principle or practice in the arts and esp. painting
that flourished chiefly in France, Switzerland, and
Germany, from about 1916 to about 1920 and that were
based on deliberate irrationality, anarchy, cynicism,
and negation of laws of beauty and social organization"
- Critique of the above definition; its flaws
- Main dadaists: Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara, Richard Huelsenbeck,
Hans Ball, etc.
- chance as a tool; irrationality = chance.
- The art in "the sixties" as a dadaist revival.
- John Cage's importance and influence on the arts
- development of early electro-acoustic music
- happenings: the Fluxus group
- concept art: 4'33": testing the limits
- multi-media works: errasing the boundaries between arts
- music/art based on ideas and principles uncommon in Western
- inspired the works of an entire generation and beyond
A few other works discussed or mentioned in class:
His interest in mesotics and mushrooms.
- Variations IV
- Renga with Apartment House
- Musicircus, Paris, 1970
back to Class Notes |
back to Music 104 |
to Reserve list |
to Syllabus |
back to Courses |
back to Sever Tipei's home page |
Computer Music Project |
Music Composition and Scientific Sonification Project