John Cage at (Almost) 60

Cut to a Harlem street where Cage is standing on a sidewalk listening to the sounds of people and traffic which make up the first movement of the piece. A number of passers-by end up in the film, and Nam June Paik interviews a couple of them, but Cage is mostly concerned with listening to the sounds and keeping an eye on his stop watch to make sure the movement lasts for the amount of time specified in the score. The film proceeds in similar fashion to Times Square and two other locations, as the remaining movements are presented.

Many people seemed to think the whole thing was a joke, as there was intermittent laughter throughout this sequence. And it is a kind of joke if one wants to think of it as ‘composing’ and ‘music’ in the usual senses. But Cage is not trying to be funny. I think he calls it ‘music’ and ‘composing’ just because he likes the kind of sounds and sequences which arise naturally in the environment and wants people to listen to them as if they were music. Anyway, when the four movements were over and Cage spelled out his belief that anyone can create music for himself by simply opening his ears, the point was clear and there was no more laughter. Everyone seemed to agree with Cage and to appreciate his ingenious demonstration of the beauty of the environmental sounds.

Tom Johnson. “John Cage at (Almost) 60”. The Village Voice 13 July, 1972