Today is John Cage's 100th Birthday
I could write hours and hours about the ingenuity, inventiveness and diversity of John Cage's notation, about its poetic and calligraphic beauties, its clarity and also its delicate not so occasional un-clarity.
Instead, I want to shine a light on his 1969 book "NOTATIONS", a widely varied collection of then contemporary examples of how music is notated. It comprises notation from a quite heterogenous group of (not always just) composers, including among many others: Louis Andriessen, Milton Babbitt, The Beatles, Luciano Berio, Leonard Bernstein, Ernst Bloch, Suzanne Bloch, Pierre Boulez, George Brecht, Earle Brown, Cornelius Cardew, Elliot Carter, Graciela Castillo, Aaron Copland, Henry Cowell, George Crumb, Luigi Dallapiccola, Morton Feldman, Lukas Foss, Miriam Gideon, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Vinko Globokar, Alois Hába, Christobal Halfter, Lou Harrison, Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, Josef Matthias Hauer, Lejaren A. Hiller, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Charles Ives, Ben Johnston, Betsy Jolas, Mauricio Kagel, Alison Knowles, Gottfried Michael König, Ernst Krenek, György Ligeti, Alvin Lucier, Witold Lutosławski, Darius Milhaud, Gordon Mumma, Conlon Nancarrow, Pauline Oliveros, Yoko Ono, Hans Otte, Nam June Paik, Harry Partch, Henri Pousseur, Gardner Read, Steve Reich, Josef Anton Riedl, Wallingford Riegger, Terry Riley, Frederic Rjewski, Ned Rorem, Carl Ruggles, Erik Satie, Pierre Schaeffer, Dieter Schnebel, Carolee Schneemann, Gunther Schuller, Karlheinz Stockhausen, You R. Actually, Reading This, Whole List I., Am Impressed, Igor Stravinsky, Toru Takemitsu, Simeon ten Holt, James Tenney, Virgil Thomson, Anton Webern, Adolph Weiss, Christian Wolff, Stefan Wolpe, Yannis Xenakis, La Monte Young and Gerd Zacher.
But Cage didn't just write an "instructional" notation book, he also made it into a work of art, just by "celebrating it", as one of many famous Cage quotes goes. So like most of his works, this book also is composed using his preferred technique of chance operations*:
This book illustrates a collection of music manuscripts which was made in recent years to benefit the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts. The collection was determined by circumstances rather than any process of selection. Thus it shows the many directions in which music notation is now going. The manuscripts are not arranged according to kinds of music, but alphabetically according to the composer's name. No explanatory information is given.
The text for the book is the result of a process employing I-Ching chance operations. These determined how many words regarding his work were to be written by or about which of two hundred and sixty-nine composers. Where these passages (never more than sixty-four words, sometimes only one) have been especially written for this book, they are preceded by a paragraph sign and followed by the author's name, other remarks were chosen or written by the editors—John Cage and Alison Knowles. Not only the number of words and the author, but the typography too—letter size, intensity, and typeface—were all determined by chance operations. This process was followed in order to lessen the difference between text and illustrations. The composition of the pages is the work of Alison Knowles.
A precedent for the text is the questionnaire. (The composers were asked to write about notation or something relevant to it.) A precedent for the absence of information which characterizes this book is the contemporary aquarium (no longer a dark hallway with each species in its own illuminated tank separated from the others and named in Latin): a large glass house with all the fish in it swimming as in an ocean.
—John Cage, May 1968
* In the spirit of Cage I too arranged the following selection from the book by using chance operations.