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John Cage’s influence on music

British singer Peter Gabriel  left British composer Brian Eno pose for photographers during promotifor 38th MIDEM (International record music

British singer Peter Gabriel , left, and British composer Brian Eno pose for photographers during a promotion, for the 38th MIDEM (International record music publishing and video music market) in Cannes, southern France, Monday Jan. 26, 2004. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

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Updated: August 30, 2012 8:41PM

Where can you hear the influence of John Cage in pop and rock music?


Oklahoma’s Flaming Lips have gleefully played with and created their own found sounds. They once spent studio time recording the alluring thwunk! of a freezer door to use as a rhythmic component in a song. In 1996, the band also conducted several performances of their Parking Lot Experiment, in which specially made cassettes were played simultaneously in the stereos of dozens of cars with their doors open. Cage’s first experiments with electroacoustic sounds began with his “Imaginary Landscape” series, which utilized multiple turntables or radios turned off and on at certain intervals.


The very idea of inserting a recorded snippet of something else into a separate recording is rooted in Cage’s experiments with tape recorders, as well as the further such work honed by German composer Karl Stockhausen. Thus were born Brian Eno’s hypnotic loops in the 1970s, a variety of arty and commercial sound bites in the 1980s (Art of Noise, Negativland, the Residents) and much of the sampling that underpins contemporary hip-hop. Today’s sampling technology makes any instrument available to any musician on a variety of devices, including smartphones and iPads.


In 2008, Paul McCartney vied for the release of an experimental track recorded by the Beatles but shelved. McCartney specifically cited Cage as an influence for the 14-minute track, recorded in 1967 and featuring distorted guitar, organ sounds, gargling and shouts of “Barcelona!” and “Are you all right?” from McCartney and John Lennon. Yoko Ono, Lennon’s wife, was a fervent admirer of Cage and worked with him numerous times. (One version of how Ono and Lennon met has Ono traveling to London to compile a book of Cage’s, to which Lennon contributed a manuscript.)


Thurston Moore’s band enjoyed “preparing” their instruments to create unusual sounds, much as Cage inserted objects and playing cards into the strings of his piano. Sonic Youth has recorded a few of Cage’s works, including “Six” and “Four6.”


Believe it or not, the Dead is a fine example of one band that left itself open to the kinds of happy accidents Cage so relished. Those long, noodling instrumentals were often chancey, Cage-like experiments.


“Percussion music is revolution,” Cage proclaimed in 1939. Today’s existence of percussion ensembles is a tip of the hat to Cage, as well may be the current omnipresence of electronic dance music. Cage continued declaring that the future of music was percussive, made by and for dancers with “machines and electrical instruments which we will invent.”


Frank Zappa frequently praised Cage and covered his work, including “4’33”.” The minimalism of Philip Glass owes a tremendous debt to Cage’s early work. Performance art-singers like Laurie Anderson, too, as well as cult composers like Moondog. Damon & Naomi don’t just play folk-rock, they run a publishing house that reissues old tomes, such as Cage’s Composition in Retrospect. Stereolab wore their influences on their sleeves early on with singles like “John Cage Bubblegum.”

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