John Cage on writing music

Music is neither a livelihood nor a hobby for me; it's an expression of what it means to live, to respond authentically to the great mystery that surrounds us. I resonate very deeply with this statement by John Cage in 1957 ("Experimental Music") on the vocation of the composer:

"And what is the purpose of writing music? One is, of course, not dealing with purposes but dealing with sounds. Or the answer must take the form of a paradox: a purposeful purposelessness or a purposeless play. This play, however, is an affirmation of life--not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we're living, which is so excellent once one gets one's mind and one's desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord."
Cage's exposure to Zen Buddhism is clearly revealed in this wonderful passage. He points toward a way of making music that is not driven by the concerns of the ego, not a "dressing up" of the self, but a letting go of it, a natural expression of the artist's momentary state, and an invitation to the listener to experience the present moment with the music serving as a mirror. A musical composition is a barometer for the clarity of mind with which it is created. Instead of being a self-serving commodity, it becomes something more like a part of nature, a place to be visited by others, but only a part of the vast landscape of what is.


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