John Cage’s Experimental Composition Class.
- Julia E. Robinson
American experimental music class held by John Cage in New York. Although Cage had been faculty at the New School for Social Research (called the University in Exile in the period of and immediately after World War II, and subsequently, The New School University) since the early 1950s, team-teaching with his early mentor Henry Cowell (1897–1965), his critical tenure there was 1956–1960. It was in these years that his own work was hitting its greatest strides, and his dynamic classes reflected as much. The class focused on Cage’s most exploratory moves in music, not only his own trajectory—informed by Marcel Duchamp, Zen, and the international postwar avant-garde scene—but also new developments at Darmstadt (whether he was for them or against them), the world epicenter for exploratory musical work, which was driven by a younger generation mostly engaged with new sound technology.
Cage’s pedagogical modus operandi was surprising, in part due to his strikingly “low-tech” means. He was known for exemplifying the spatialization of sound, and its capacity for constant change, by such methods as placing a pencil—rubber eraser pointing down—between the strings of the New School classroom piano, to show students how, via direct alterations to the source, sound could be ...