In Class 8 we looked at the work of John Cage, avant-garde composer and poet – a very influential figure in music, poetry, and visual art. In a 1978 interview with Richard Kostelanetz, Cage discusses the techniques he uses in his works Writing Through Finnegans Wake and Writing for the Second Time Through Finnegans Wake. We are looking at this interview in preparation for our next assignment, Assignment 3, where we will use a text as the source material for a new artwork.
John Cage is perhaps best known for 4′33″, a composition which consists of 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. When performed (here’s a performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra), the audience is meant to experience the ambient sounds of the setting as music. Cage also created chance or aleatoric music, such as prepared piano (here are a couple of videos).
Writing for the Second Time Through Finnegans Wake was created as part of Cage’s Roaratorio, a musical composition which uses Finnegans Wake as its source material. Finnegans Wake is itself an experimental modernist novel by James Joyce, another hugely influential figure in 20th century literature and art. The novel is full of puns, wordplay and made-up words, and uses a stream-of-consciousness writing style. Like Tom Phillips’s A Humument, which we looked at last class, Writing Through Finnegans Wake creates a new narrative by navigating an existing text.
Writing Through Finnegans Wake might also be thought of as an example of Conceptual art. In the words of Sol LeWitt, “In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.”