The Solos for Voice categorized     

A definitive taxonomy of the many types of pieces in Song Books would be problematic. The collection is remarkably diverse; it includes over 50 types of pieces or styles, depending on how one counts such things. Moreover, some pieces overlap in their compositional approaches or materials, directions to performers, or relations to Cage's previous pieces. In an effort toward clarification, we created two documents in which we categorize all 90 solos and comment briefly on them. We hope that these documents can help performers make sense of the collection, especially when considering which pieces to perform. Note that all the pieces are titled “solo for voice” regardless of whether they call for singing.

The first document groups and color-codes the solos according to their principal compositional or notational methods or materials (e.g., cheap imitation), directions to the performer (e.g., follow a map), or relations to a previous piece by Cage (e.g., Concert for Piano and Orchestra). It also notes their relevance to Satie or Thoreau, or more generally to Cage's theme for Song Books, "We connect Satie with Thoreau;" whether they include electronics, and of what type, if specified; and the author or source of their text, if any. Here the solos aren’t listed in numerical order, but rather by what type of compositional approach seems most prevalent. All the songs are listed first, followed by all the theater pieces. This is easier to see on the document than to explain verbally.

The second document repeats the same information as the first, but lists all the solos in numerical order. Here the pieces aren’t grouped according to compositional approach, although they’re color-coded, with the same colors as in the first document, to clarify their connections. Solos without color coding are unique instances of their type. At the end of each document, note the guide to references and abbreviations, some of which add such further information as the names of the singers for whom Cage composed certain solos.

Song Books solos categorized by type

Song Books solos categorized by number

Choice and Change in Cage’s Recent Music

Composer, musicologist, performer, and Vir2Ual Cage team member William Brooks has been associated with John Cage for over four decades as both a performer and scholar. He played in the world premiere of Cage’s landmark multi-media work HPSCHD, and has several times directed productions of numerous works by Cage, including Song Books, the original plans for which he studied and discussed with the composer himself.

Song Books figures prominently in this article, which offers annotated descriptions of many “solos for voice” and insights into Cage’s compositional processes and tastes. For the reader wondering about what might lie behind Song Books, this is an excellent place to start. This article first appeared in the literary journal TriQuarterly (volume 54, Spring 1982), and subsequently in the book A John Cage Reader: In Celebration of His Seventieth Birthday (New York: C. F. Peters, 1983). It is posted below with its author’s kind permission.

Choice and Change in Cage’s Recent Music

The original version of this website included a quote generator that randomly chose from among two dozen quotes by John Cage. Perhaps one day this site will include such a generator. Meanwhile, for enjoyment and edification, click the link below for a collection of quotes, listed in no particular order.

Quotes by John Cage

Ideas are one thing and what happens is another.

I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.

As far as consistency of thought goes, I prefer inconsistency.

I have nothing to say, I am saying it, and that is poetry as I needed it.

The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why do I think it’s not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.

Which is more musical: a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school?

If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.

It is better to make a piece of music than to perform one, better to perform one than to listen to one, better to listen to one than to misuse it as a means of distraction, entertainment, or acquisition of “culture.”

The highest purpose is to have no purpose at all. This puts one in accord with nature, in her manner of operation.

There is poetry as soon as we realize that we possess nothing.

Theater takes place all the time wherever one is, and art simply facilitates persuading one this is the case.

When we separate music from life we get art.

To consider the Song Books as a work of art is nearly impossible. Who would dare? It resembles a brothel, doesn't it?

Value judgments are destructive to our proper business, which is curiousity and awareness.

Nothing more than nothing can be said.

Get out of whatever cage you find yourself in.

Theater is obligatory eventually because it resembles life more closely than the other arts do, requiring for its appreciation the use of both eyes and ears, space and time.

Projects involving many people and many interruptions go well.

I need to find a way to let people be free without their becoming foolish. So that their freedom will make them noble. How will I do this? That is the question.

The goal is not to have a goal.

The more egos you have, the better chance you have of eliminating the ego altogether.

Before I begin to work I think I know something; then when I'm working I discover I don't know anything at all. What we are doing is finding out what it is we are doing.

Each moment presents what happens.