Cage and Noise
 Music. Noise. Cage. Noise and music. Noise in music. Music
noise. Noise about music. Cage about noise. Cage about music as
 In accordance with traditional music history, Cage's views on music and noise can be positioned at the end of a long line of developments in the history of music. I confine myself to mentioning two names that have influenced Cage's ideas. Futurist Luigi Russolo (1855-1947) was one of the first composers of the 20th century that attempted to emancipate noise, for which reason he may be regarded as a precursor of Cage (cf. Noise as Undifferentiated Sound). Cage himself, however, has referred more often to French-American composer Edgard Varèse (1885-1965). 'Years ago, for instance, after I decided to devote my life to music, I noticed that people distinguished between noises and sounds. I decided to follow Varèse and fight for noises, to be on the side of the underdog', Cage remembers in 'The Future of Music' (Gena and Brent, p.38). Although Varèse still defined music as 'organized sound' - a view Cage highly contests - Cage did consider him a kindred spirit since Varèse, more than anyone else in his generation, was clearly and actively concerned with accepting all audible phenomena as material proper to music. 'While others were still discriminating musical tones from noises, Varèse moved into the field of sound itself, not splitting it in two by introducing into the perception of it a mental prejudice' (Cage, 1961, p.83-4). Following Varèse and exceeding Russolo's undermining moves, Cage crusades against the superior position of 'the concept of music' in the world of sound. According to Cage, it is this very concept that makes it extremely difficult to develop an uninhibited and unprejudiced ear for sounds that one does not (yet) count among music. Instead, one often tries to avoid, banish, or ignore these sounds precisely because they do not belong to the musical domain. 'There is so much in so-called classical music that is bound up not with sound, but with theory', says Cage (Gena and Brent, p.182).
 Cage is aware of the problems that these views bring about. 'Musicians
will not admit that we are making music; they will say that we are interested
in superficial effects, or, at most, are imitating Oriental or primitive
music. New and original sounds will be labeled as 'noise'. But our common
answer to every criticism must be to continue working and listening, making
music with its materials, sound and rhythm, disregarding the cumbersome,
top-heavy structure of musical prohibitions' (Cage, 1961, p.87, my
italics). Cage composes (and argues in favor of a) music open to the sounds
that are outside of it. A non-obstruction of sounds. The sounds of automobile
parts, pipe lengths, and sheets of metal, for example. Familiar sounds,
but sounds that were never before heard as music. He asks us to free our
minds from the old concepts of music and to explore ways to 'let sounds
be themselves'. He opposes the said 'intellectuality' of music, since it
stands in the way of an acceptance of noise. According to Cage, noises
are sounds that have not yet been intellectualized. The ear can hear them
directly; it cannot fit them into abstract preconceptions. (It is the failure
of the intention to make these sounds fit that constitute them as noise.)
Sounds should appear without positions of superiority or subordination.
 Music. Noise. Cage. Noise and music. Noise
music. The concept of music does not interest Cage. 'If one feels protective
about the word 'music' (if this word is sacred), protect it and find another
word for all the rest that enters through the ears. It's a waste of time
to trouble oneself with words' (Cage, 1961, p.190). However, can Cage withdraw
from this concept, this word? Can he - cagey, perhaps dressed up in a caftan
- escape from this cage? Doesn't the problem of closure remain at the heart
of Cage's project? The very gesture that carries his compositions, his
ideas, beyond the conceptual closure of music, the cage called music, re-inscribes
them within the limits of closure; they are bound in a double gesture,
one of transgression and restoration. The transgression of the closure
can only proceed by employing the musical language and conceptuality that
restores music to itself. It is music that turns noise into (musical) experience.
But Cage's work is also the mark of an alterity that music is unable to
reduce. The deconstructive working of Cage's compositions leaves music
as a fissured concept that is unable to tell its inside from its outside.
Cage's thinking and composing can not only be thought of as an effort to
push the concept of music towards a new border; it comprises the infinite
deferral of its enclosing power.
 In spite of the emancipative work of such people as Russolo and Varèse, Cage finds himself confronted with a musical world that still defines noise as 'sounds of indefinite pitch'. There is a clear hierarchy in the world of sounds: 'musical sounds' rise above 'noise sounds'. Cage is viewed with suspicion because he explores this forbidden 'non-musical' field of sounds. His first move (strategically speaking, though not chronologically) is to undermine this hierarchical order by introducing noise into the musical world, suggesting they are equal to musical sounds. However, this first move still leaves music with the upper hand. Departing from 'musical' sounds, a shift takes place where noise may now also be listened to as musical sounds. Cage's second move is to no longer take musical sounds, but rather noise, as his starting point.
 'When Cage opens the door to the concert hall
to let the noise of the street in, he is regenerating all of music: he
is taking it to its culmination. He is blaspheming, criticizing the code
and the network' (Attali, p.136). According to Jacques Attali, Cage does
question some of the old codes (the process of musical creation, music
as an autonomous activity), but he does not yet suggest any new substitutions.
However, it is my belief that many of Cage's compositions do initiate a
rather radical shift in our attitude towards music. It is a shift that
could be called a deconstruction in music: this strategy of deconstruction
can be identified in the inversion of the initial hierarchy between music
and noise (cf.
 Ambient sounds. Unpredictable by nature. Variable.
(Musically) non-intentional. As such, they raise the question of non-intention,
of non-doing, of doing-without-doing. All these sounds share in the absence
of intention, which implies that they do not follow or pursue a predetermined
direction, meaning, or destination. It is important to Cage that the act
of composing does not disrupt this state of relative non-activity. His
compositions must be in harmony with the events of the outside world.
 'Nothing was lost when everything was given away. In fact, everything is gained. In musical terms, any sounds may occur in any combination and in any continuity' (Cage, 1961, p.8). Waiting (Play music). Disclosure. Transgression. No longer are noise and music opposing poles of a contra-distinction. There is no contra-distinction anymore; 'noise' sounds and 'musical' sounds become subspecies of an arche-noise (or, perhaps, we can still just call it sound), an arche-noise that opens the play of differences. First made conscious, then subverted, the opposition now dissolves in a play of non-stable meanings, in which ground and figure easily change places. An endless displacement. An abyss.
 Noise and music. Noise in music. Music in noise. For Cage, deconstructing the border between noise and music is not an isolated endeavor, but a critical questioning of the border between art and life as well. After a concert, someone from the audience approached him with the following complaint: 'That kind of music if you call it music should not be played in a public hall, because many people do not understand it and they start talking or tittering and the result is that you can't hear the music because of all these extraneous sounds ... The music could be played and possibly appreciated, in a home, where, not having paid to be entertained, those listening might listen and not have the impulse to titter or having it out of decorum squelch it and besides in a home it is more comfortable and quiet: there would be a better chance to hear it' (Cage, 1961, p.135). Cage's response makes clear that the opposition of noise-music cannot be perceived without taking the opposition of life-art into consideration, and that his attention to noise also serves to transgress that opposition. 'Now what that someone said describes the desire for special cut-off-from-life conditions: an ivory tower. But no ivory tower exists, for there is no possibility of keeping the Prince forever within the Palace Walls. He will, nilly-willy, one day get out and seeing that there are sickness and death (tittering and talking) become the Buddha. Besides at my house, you hear the boat sounds, the traffic sounds, the neighbors quarreling, the children playing and screaming in the hall, and on top of it all the pedals of the piano squeak. There is no getting away from life' (Cage, 1961, p.135). At the root of the desire to appreciate a piece of music 'as such', to hear it without the unavoidable extraneous sounds, is the idea that a musical work is separated from the rest of life. Cage objects (cf. Silence and Death). He points out in various ways that non-intended sounds, sounds that need to be excluded because they are disruptive and reside outside of the music, are always already part of the music, part of the inside. The rests at the start and the end of Waiting (Play music) refer to the problematic difference between living with all the sounds from everyday life and the intended sounds of music. This composition does not begin with the first piano sounds, nor does it end with the fading of the final sounds. Before the piano is first heard, Waiting (Play music) is already 98 seconds on its way; after the piano sounds disappear again, the piece still has another 18 seconds to go. The beginning and the ending of Waiting (Play music) (that is, the beginning and ending of this piece of music) is at the heart a play with the demarcation of musical sounds from sounds that do not (yet) belong to music. Is it already music? Is it still music? A play. A play with music. A play by music. A play in music.
 Noise vs. music, non-intended sounds vs. intended sounds, life vs. art; the oppositional pairs resonating along with the first opposition form an ever-extending thread. However, the differences are not cancelled out. Noise and music, art and life do not really merge in Cage's work. His 'anti-art' still operates within an aesthetic abstraction similar to art. But the aesthetic isolation and abstraction are questioned. The borders are permeable, shifting, insecure (cf. Dahlhaus, 1984, p.49).