Is music just sounds? And what does it communicate? Donald Harris

Donald Harris, photo by OSU Photo Services Professor of Composition & TheorySchool of Music, The Ohio State University John Cage Introduction These are questions that might seem appropriate for John Cage to ask, particularly if one is already acquainted with his music and his musical thought. Cage was eager to challenge common understandings. Whether or […]

Is music just sounds? And what does it communicate? Daniel Dorff

Daniel Dorff, Photo by Eiko Fan Some instrumental music is “just sounds” to communicate musical patterns, ranging in style from Haydn to Brahms to Persichetti to Shapey.  Other instrumental music communicates tangible meaning, generally with extra-musical clues, as in Berlioz, Strauss, many recent composers, and Vivaldi‘s Four Seasons. (Vocal music is a different story, since […]

View from the West: The Decline of Radio

Dean SuzukiPhoto by Ryan Suzuki No matter how you slice it, new music is a tough sell. Composers young and old have a difficult time getting commissions and having their works performed. With limited budgets, concerts are often not well publicized and, as an inevitable result, are poorly attended. How then are composers and new […]

View from the East: Is New Music Thriving?

Greg Sandow I’d like to think new music is thriving. Certainly there are reasons for thinking it is. Last year I served on an awards panel for ASCAP; we looked at hundreds of applications from composers all over the country, all of whom were getting performances, many of them from local performing groups. We New […]

Losing Control: Indeterminacy and Improvisation in Music Since 1950

Sabine Randomized by Amanda MacBlane After the Second World War and a period of controlling more and more aspects of performance, many composers rediscovered an old phenomenon: improvisation. At first glance, the word “improvisation,” which has been used since the 14th century, seems to refer to a clear-cut concept—”to compose or simultaneously compose and perform […]

Take a Chance


In preparation for an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on surrealism, I am in the midst of re-reading André Breton’s first Surrealist Manifesto. I am always a little tickled by his vigorous academic defense—calling upon Freud, Proust, and Pascal—of the games he and his hand-picked disciples played. In a less pretentious, yet equally […]

Overcoming Preconceptions

Frank J. OteriPhoto by Melissa Richard I was lucky to have had two brief encounters with John Cage that were both defining moments though in very different ways. The first time I met John Cage was at a bookstore in Greenwich Village where he was autographing copies of his new book For The Birds. I […]

Is music just sounds? And what does it communicate?

In one of his three 1958 “Composition as Process” lectures at Darmstadt, John Cage recited a string of randomly assembled questions. One of the most poignant of these questions was: “Is music just sounds? And what does it communicate?” Rather than ask the obvious suspects to contribute comments, we decided it would be more appropriate […]

A Chance Encounter with Christian Wolff

Christian Wolff Friday, January 11, 2002—4:33 p.m. Greenwich House Music SchoolNew York, NY A Conversion to New Music Meeting Cage & the Genesis of Indeterminacy Interpreting Indeterminate Music Compositional Intent On Serialism & Complex Modernism On Neo-Romanticism & Politics Christian Wolff—Rock Star? The Orchestra Listening Music and A Career Sonic Gallery Complete Interview Transcript (160KB […]