Indeterminacy 47

Friday, 11 March 2011

This summer I’m going to give a class in mushroom
identification at the New School for Social
Research. Actually, it’s five field trips, not
really a class at all. However, when I proposed it
to Dean Clara Mayer, though she was delighted with
the idea, she said, “I’ll have to let you know later
whether or not we’ll give it.” So she spoke to the
president who couldn’t see why there should be a
class in mushrooms at the New School. Next she spoke
to Professor MacIvor who lives in Piermont. She
said, “What do you think about our having a mushroom
class at the New School?” He said, “Fine idea.
Nothing more than mushroom identification develops
the powers of observation.” This remark was relayed
both to the president and to me. It served to get
the class into the catalogue and to verbalize for
me my present attitude toward music: it isn’t
useful, music isn’t, unless it develops our powers
of audition. But most musicians can’t hear a single
sound, they listen only to the relationship between
two or more sounds. Music for them has nothing to
do with their powers of audition, but only to do
with their powers of observing relationships. In
order to do this, they have to ignore all the crying
babies, fire engines, telephone bells, coughs, that
happen to occur during their auditions. Actually,
if you run into people who are really interested in
hearing sounds, you’re apt to find them fascinated
by the quiet ones. “Did you hear that?” they will
say.

— John Cage, from “Indeterminacy”, 1958


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