As John Cage proposed certain rigid parameters of time disci-
pline within his music,
This eulogy, altogether ten minutes, divides ideally into three parts:
1) Brief outline of his career (3’67”)
2) Exposition of sitting practice of meditation, (2′)
and 3) The practice itself, (4’33)
First, a brief rundown on John Cage’s career: Henry Cowell’s
classes in non-Western music; counterpoint with Arnold
Cornish Institute, Seattle, 1938, met Merce Cunningham;
percussion concerts with Lou Harrison;
prepared piano transformed ad hoc into percussion instrument by
inserting various objects between the strings for a dance
of African character, lacking other orchestral means for per-
cussion on one occasion.
Cited 1949 by our Academy for “having extended the boundaries
Electrically produced sounds. Influence of rhythmic struc-
tures of some Eastern music.
Inclusion of Eastern aesthetic philosophy, the “Permanent Emo-
tions” such as in
Seasons, 1947: Quiescence (winter); Creation (spring); Preserva-
tion (summer) Destruction (autumn);
I Ching adapted for chance operation in musical compositions.
Zen Buddhist studies at Columbia University with D. T. Suzuki;
thenceforth, lifelong inventions in Dharma art.
Result of meditation insight 1952, his 4’33” of Silence “may be per-
formed by any instrument or combination of instruments.”
Studied, collaborated, worked with and/or influenced Jackson
MacLow, Morton Feldman, David Tudor, Christian
Wolff, Earle Brown, Nam June Paik, Luciano Berio, Karl-
heinz Stockhausen, Arthur Russell, Philip Glass,
Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns,
Alan Kaprow, Dick Higgins of Fluxus, George Brecht,
At Black Mountain College Cage created ur-“Happenings”; among
the earliest for the U.S. art world.
Co-founded the New York Mycological Society; Connoisseur and
innovator in macrobiotic cooking and eating.
Youthful epiphanous apprehension of the multiplicity of simulta-
neous visual & audible events on a streetcorner in Seville
later manifested aurally through exploration of consciousness
Innovator in music in the use of Astronomic charts; amplified
plant sounds; sounds of places in Finnegan’s Wake;
appropriations of Thoreau & Joyce, Satie & Duchamp, on
tape & cut in/cut up and mixed together.
“Everything has its own vibration,” he was recalled to Hindu
theory, Shabda yoga:
the universe itself based on sound vibration, according to
sensory experience a form of vibration, beginning with sound
Thus he concluded, “the purpose of music is to sober and quiet the
His meditation was the practice of “non intention” with “humor,
intransigence and detachment.”
Silence “not the absence of sound but the sound of the unintended
operation of nervous system & circulation of his blood.”
“Music without beginning middle or end,” … “Music as weather.”
… “I write in order to hear the music I haven’t yet heard.”
To cut thru to the classical Buddhist bones of Cage’s art, one may
try Samatha (quieting the mind) and
Vipassana (clear seeing and hearing)
The following rudimentary instruction in sitting meditation may
be practiced on the spot by those who wish to do so.
Those of us interested in experiencing the pragmatic basis of
might sit up straight forward on our chairs:
Posture erect with back and spine straight, top of the head sup-
arms resting palms down on thighs…so that the back bone’s
abdomen and belly relaxed,
paying attention to breath exhaled from tip of nostril till
breath dissolves in space in front of the face…
Mouth closed, body balanced, shoulders relaxed, no special
attention to in-breath.
When we catch ourselves thinking, it’s possible to take a friendly
attitude toward thoughts,
acknowledging thought as thought,
not pushing thoughts away, not inviting thoughts in to tea, thoughts
can take care of themselves.
So return attention to the next breath outward from nostrils.
In the Western tradition of observing a minute of silence let’s per-
form John Cage’s 4 minutes & 33 seconds of silence.
As David Tudor opened & closed the piano lid for the first per-
we’ll use the ring of a traditional meditation hall bronze bell:
[Sound of Gong]
[Sound of Gong]