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"The clutter of the unkempt forest": John Cage, Music and American Environmental Thought

David Ingram
Amerikastudien / American Studies
Vol. 51, No. 4 (2006), pp. 567-579
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41158263
Page Count: 13
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"The clutter of the unkempt forest": John Cage, Music and American Environmental Thought
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Abstract

John Cage's artistic development showed an increasingly explicit awareness of environmental issues and of their relationship to his music. In breaking away from the linear, teleological structures of Western classical music, which emphasized a sense of forward movement culminating in a single climax, he criticized the destructiveness of a Western society committed to Faustian notions of historical progress. Cage was influenced by the idea that music in Indian cultures served 'to quiet the mind and thus make it susceptible to divine influences.' Also central to his naturalistic aesthetics was the Indian art critic Ananda Coomaraswamy, who wrote that the intention of Indian art was 'to imitate Nature in her manner of operation.' In his 1960s writings, Cage became interested in the work of R. Buckminster Fuller on how contemporary electronic technologies were producing opportunities for a new 'post-scarcity' society which would be less ecologically damaging than in the past. By the 1970s, Cage came to apply such explicitly ecological ideas to his processes of musical composition. In pieces such as "Inlets" and "Child of Tree," music became for him a model of benign ecological relations between human beings and the natural world.

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