A number of years ago I had had the ear of the Estonia-born composer of Canada, Udo Kasemets.  I had been reading a series of articles he was writing at the time in the periodical, Musicworks, when a question had arisen between a friend and I.  The question had been based in the indeterminate and interpenetrating aspects of Cage’s works (Kasemets being a contemporary of Cage, and some might say a disciple).  I honestly can not remember which side of the argument I was on, but we wondered, together, if John Cage had felt a sense of ownership over his work.  After having written 4:33, for example, was it still “his” composition in his mind, having given so much of what would normally be intellectual property away to the elements.  I had emailed Mr. Kasemets regarding the question.

Mr. Kasemets responded rather quickly, as he always did, that firstly, he didn’t know what I was talking about (having not made myself clear), but that he was going to tell me something about Cage that no one seemed to understand.  I had a sense from his tone that this would be something that he felt had been getting lost as the years grew long.  He said that Cage’s message was that a composer should start from scratch, start with one’s own methods and techniques… and to commit fully (I am paraphrasing here).

Sage advice from both Cage, and Kasemets.  I think about that advice now and again, particularly when I need the courage to continue a line of thought, of composition, that I feel will may not be understood.

I had recently made a trip to the music library where I reveiwed the piano score for Cage’s Concert, for Piano and Orchestra. After about 60 pages of the score, where not one compositional technique had been repeated (or perhaps a limited number of times), it finally hit me.  It seemed perfectly clear to me that Cage had a point here; that he was simply saying that there are a multitude of ways of writing, composing, and reading music.  The sense of freedom inherent in much of what Cage had done was present here as well, for me.  I went home feeling more free, more confident, in my own ways of composing, looking at sound and music, and performing.

Best wishes,

Michael