McLuhan and Cage: Chance and Medium as Message

Monday, April 21st, 2014 by lola192

I have been interested in John Cage and his experiments with chance since learning of his work with choreographer, Merce Cunningham, in a modern dance class. Cage served as the musical advisor for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from its founding in 1953 until his death in 1992. During his time with the group, Cage and Cunningham extensively employed chance procedures in their compositions, experimenting with theories of causal relationships between sound and movement by paying little attention to structured musical form or any other traditional elements of musical arrangement. The I Ching, the Chinese book of changes, inspired the pair’s experimentations. Cunningham describes how Cage utilised the I Ching in his book, Merce Cunningham: A Lifetime of Dance:

“Cage took it to work in his way of making compositions then; and he used the idea of 64—the number of the hexagrams —to say that you had 64, for example, sounds; then you could cast, by chance, to find which sound first appeared, cast again, to say which sound came second, cast again, so that it’s done by, in that sense, chance operations. Instead of finding out what you think should follow—say a particular sound—what did the I Ching suggest?”

For my final project, I shall be writing an approximately 12-page paper on the Cagean method that will be physically formed by then using this method. That is, after completing the paper, I will separate the paper into random sections – breaking in the middle of sentences or paragraphs – rather than adhering to clearly defined and ‘natural’ delineations. I will then apply the Cagean method by rolling a dice to decide which medium to use to write up each section i.e. 1 = Typewriter, 2 = Word processor, 3 = Calligraphy, 4 = Typography, 5 = Stencil, 6 = Copier. The completed sections will then be put together in a hand-bound book. Whilst I have yet to figure out my thesis, my paper/creative book project will consider McLuhan’s theory that the medium is the message and explore his relationship with Cage/Cage’s take on McLuhan. I hope that the Cagean structure of the book will elicit a different response to/reading experience of the paper depending on the medium in which the ‘message’ is written.

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One comment on “McLuhan and Cage: Chance and Medium as Message

  1. Lori Emerson says:

    Lola, this still sounds great from the last time we talked about it – my only suggestion (and you might be planning on doing this anyways) is that it sounds like it might be necessary? or important? to do a kind of post-script that reflects on the final product and the readerly reception of the pieces of essay that are now distributed across so many media…a reflection that would allow you to maybe bring in what we’ve learned in class?

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