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The President and Fellows of Harvard College Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology

Conversation with Morton Feldman (Bunita Marcus and Francesco Pellizzi) Author(s): Morton Feldman, Bunita Marcus, Francesco Pellizzi, John Cage Reviewed work(s): Source: RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, No. 6 (Autumn, 1983), pp. 112-135 Published by: The President and Fellows of Harvard College acting through the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology Stable URL: . Accessed: 19/11/2011 17:40
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Conversation with Morton


(Bunita Marcus and Francesco Pellizzi)


The following is the transcription of a conversation between John Cage and Morton Feldman that took place in Cage's New York apartment on Saturday, November 19, 1983, between 2:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. The idea of the encounter and its title have a long story. In the late 1960s, Morton Feldman wrote a text from Mel Powell, was called that, at a suggestion Conversation without Stravinsky; about fifteen years a in Australia, Geoffrey Barnard published later, with a Cage interview, called Conversation pamphlet without Feldman. were of Bunita Marcus and Francesco Pellizzi Composer and offered a few observations. Corrections present the transcribed text have been kept to a minimum.
* * *


was telling us this, I Iheard about the Ninth remembering something ? what do you call them Symphony being played for ? now? you can't call them savages? What do you call in New Guinea? headhunters Now, as you were

World. JC: You call them Third

MF: Okay. So they sat these people down and they Beethoven's Ninth, and it turned out that mean I didn't hear anything. it just they perceptually itwas so remote from their own didn't exist because these drones are our Ninth environment; maybe and we don't know it, because we don't Symphony played listen to them; we try to ignore them. walk away try to ignore them or we . . . from them like a person who has a refrigerator in his house that acts up occasionally. ? Idon't know JC: The ones that behave erratically about your refrigerator, but the expression "acts up" suggests that it's not a plain drone, it's something else; and that would be obviously beautiful. But it's just the

listen to them. JC: We don't MF: Well, we


how many times you've had just wondering when the interviews, public or taped conversations, interviewer never asked you the question that you felt should have been asked. "Have we left the last question, JC: That's generally

was I


out anything that you would have liked to say?" Can we begin with the last question? Can we begin with that, and then work our way back? I think what I'd like is to talk to you about the most JC: recent experiences I've been having with sound, which


surprising to me. They concern drones that are so much with us when we're inside houses or even concert I spent my life thinking we should try to get rid of halls; them. We of course never do get rid of them, because if the drone of the refrigerator, for instance, stopped, we'd call someone and get him to start it going again. We'd be more concerned with keeping the food in good than with the acoustic experience. condition But what to enjoy those is that I'm beginning has happened mean that actually Inow listen to them with sounds, I I listen to the traffic. the kind of enjoyment with which the traffic is easy to recognize as beautiful, but Now, those drones are more difficult and Ididn't really set out to find them beautiful. It's just that in, say, the last three months they are, so to speak, coming to me. John Cage. Ryoanji, page 1. Copyright
Press. Reprinted by permission.

ordinary drone that's becoming interesting to me. And, as I said, Ihave a feeling that it's as though the sound was finally reaching me rather than I was reaching it. ? MF: Well, actually by just concentrating, by ? it accepting you're probably just getting into its focus like any other

tone; you're


it as a very focused

to happen that goes along with JC: What's beginning awareness that is a heightened and interest inwhere sounds are. For instance, this one that we're hearing now that comes from the humidifier, is back of me, and can see that it is as interesting as a rock or you Itdefines a point in space. something. MF: Do you think of inventing your own drones? Ihave a new piece that is called Ryoanji after the JC: Japanese garden in Kyoto; I'mwriting a number of different pieces with the same title. That's the garden in raked sand. I made a piece for to me like any music I've looks less percussion ever written; but today when was looking at it and I I knew you were coming, it looked to me like suddenly that has fifteen stones which
hearing these . . .


1983 by

You asked whether

I would

invent a drone; well,




comes close to that except it's not really a drone it's metrical music for percussion. because Idon't say what but Ido say that there should be at instruments, least two instruments in unison, and I told Michael ? I who's playing wrote it that if it, for whom Pugliese he could use five or six and get a constant unison, I would like that very much. MF: Getting back to the ingredients of the drone . . . Don't you think that everything finally comes to a drone? That your Third World headhunter being to Beethoven that Beethoven is a listening recognizes drone? MF: Not even as a drone; they didn't hear anything. think they were insensitive to just a "drone," never JC:
mind Beethoven. Obviously there was an acoustical

in drones.


it becomes


like a mainstream

and anybody that deviates from your preoccupation, drones, they could be called naive, the way Sch?nberg as naive in his earlier adaptation would refer toWebern row. "That's no way to hear drones, of the twelve-tone I'm really trying to get at? I'm not you dope!" What sure what I'm really trying to get at, but what I think I'm of what sometimes, trying to get at isn't the significance, one does, but the fact that one is interested in doing something? And by the fact that someone was interested in doing that particular thing, it takes on a significance? In other words, what is real, reality, is lost somewhere: not making a value judgment about drones, but you're that you are there listening to drones is the fact, and that
now you are accepting them.

going on; they might not have put the gestalt into music and make the patterns, place in terms of Western but still there was some sort of noise going on. FP: Parenthetically ? inmany so-called traditional of course, drone-like or quasi-drone sounds are cultures, instruments intentionally produced by special musical and vocal techniques. The purpose is almost invariably the acoustic evocation of invisible entities, ancestral or It is also frequently a "music" meant to induce other. mental and physiological states, as, for states of possession. What are, then ? ? these "drones" for them? perceptually Ifyou had one of these portable radios, and you JC: were giving a concert and you had a radio off to the side at the back of the concert hall, the audience would be is very aware of itwithout being aware of what music particular instance, being played, MF: Which I'm sure that to another question. Icould comes too soon. Now, this question, impatiently, interest in a drone that appeared to be understand one's ? outside of the without any kind of cultural personality like that. Would that it is a refrigerator or something fact you agree that, if you had, say, two or three years of exploring various types of drones and notating them, like that you wouldn't just talk about drones, you would as it has always been, I think, one of to n?tate them, your most important contributions? rather I would probably start with the notation, JC:
than the drone . . .


to emphasize JC: again that Ididn't try to find came to me. them; they Iunderstand; MF: all I'm trying to really say, probably, is that the fact that you would think about drones does a political then become issue. Inother words, as an influence. JC: MF: Except you know that Idon't feel that way. I know you don't feel that way, but that's essentially what does happen with work. JC: But not to my working. right. Now, all this ties in; originally when we Francesco sent me having this conversation, ? Freud's last professional the last completed paper ? called "Analysis, Terminable and paper Interminable." It's a marvelous thing. And what you really learn is that he was never really gung-ho about All

I want



I think. leads me


? now, a Okay. And let's say that this notation ? the notation, the aspect of thousand years from now is unearthed. And "the drones" then become the drones, and it's the a period in your life, like Druids and Drones, then leads everybody Drone Period of John Cage. Which to have a value judgment, that there must be something

it if Icould perfect it." So this man spent years and years in trying to . . . But that's not the point; . . . the point is it probably couldn't have been perfected the problems of the therapist projecting this or that say, . . and then there's the Death Wish, on the patient. comes which completely inwith a left hook. And so the whole idea of "therapy" could become terminably and interminably hopeless. One of the things that I feel that many people don't have, in terms of understanding you, is that they themselves don't understand that you don't It is incongruous to put value on anything, specifically. and let me see anyone who doesn't do anything really, to understand that someone who does such "important" things doesn't feel that he's doing something that important, you see, in terms of value judgment or in terms of politicizing.

was too complicated a the therapeutic session, that it one of his favorite followers question. However, if there's something wrong with the thought, "Well, let me find out what's wrong with session, therapeutic

Cage: Conversation with Morton Feldman


say thing Iever read where you actually would anything about your work as some kind of tonic would I'm not quoting you, be "Well, at least Iput a dent" ? I'm just paraphrasing you inmy colloquial language. "I in the mainstream." At the put a dent somewhat moment that you say that about the mainstream, the mainstream realizes it and starts putting all evidently kinds of medals on you, and saying, "he's one of us; he we were only kidding." is the mainstream; Inever The only agreed completely with your early remark, many many I think which years ago, "Purposeful purposelessness," is absolutely I think it does explain fantastic. it some way, but we have no . . .You never really talked about this, and I feel it's so much a part of the core of your work, that this is how you actually, really look at it. . . JC: Yes. That was an idea that was not mine but came from the literature of Zen Buddhism. Ithappens to me over and over again, though; it happens to all of us. I think it's that we don't recognize it:we get involved in an activity, all the details of which we know, and the outcome of which remains completely unknown. So that we're continually but we're entirely purposeful, Italmost characterizes purposeless. daily life. now . . . MF: Our music has really . . .our Exactly, music is certainly not the same. But my point of view I would would write something, for say is identical. If I and I'mwatching it very much the way you example, would watch insects on a slide, and I'm just watching it, it for it to become a new you see. I'm not watching I'm not watching it to discover something for a DNA, it. I Nobel Prize; I'm just watching would consider that a lot of my work is just essentially "try-out," that I'm interested in the phenomenon. Itdoes imply an incredible if I just take the page interest, for example, carefully and tenderly and put it down on the piano, itout on the floor as if to show that rather than throwing was only a try-out. It's just the act of carefully just it taking the paper and putting it nicely on top of the other sheet of paper, that seems to become a work of art. Not the art itself, just the fact of placing neatly one piece of Idon't truly put any real value paper on top of another. on it, in the terms inwhich we tend to think of value, one and this is something that one cannot convey ? cannot convey this whole idea of having a life of activity where the value is only a question of one's good that's an element. Or judgment, sound judgment. Maybe that's an element of value. Idon't proportion: maybe

I went and it is that when into the conversation, Iexpected Anechoic Chamber around 1950/1951, to hear nothing and instead heard two drones, and one was my nervous system in operation. MF: This was that time at MIT, wasn't it? JC: At Harvard. The room no longer exists, by the way, at Harvard University, but I'm sure there's one some Iheard a high place nearby, maybe at MIT. Anyway, sound and a low sound, and they were continuous, and Ididn't notice that they were changing, the way the so that they could be called drones. The traffic changes, low one was my blood circulating and the high one was the nervous system. So that this is ... Inow have in mind, this isme rather than the drones talking. I have to . . . I'd say come to my the feeling that I'm beginning


You know, it has terrifying implications, just like have their own aura, their own smell, maybe we people all walk around with our own sound. Ibet you a nickel we do. JC: And we're all attracted


the wrong Maybe we

to each other... no, that's let's keep away from that person . . . sound, do in some kind of subliminal way sense this kind of sound and choose our friends and our mates and our enemies by the sound they make or don't make.

Why not? the "why not?" is bound up with the fact JC: Well, that acoustic experience is so easily wiped out by other acoustic experience. That's why the Anechoic Chamber was necessary ? some very special architecture was in order to hear the two sounds I was making. necessary And I think in that room, say if Ihad been in it with someone else, I not have heard the other person's would two sounds; I would only have heard my own. Actually that's an experiment I I'd like to make, to see whether could FP: JC: FP:

hear the other person. I'm not so sure . . . You think one would hear the other person? I think there would be an interference, with your
. . .

that be marvelous! Inmusic, we would JC: Wouldn't call that, instead of interference, we would call that

true also of smell, and it's also true of touch. of smell and touch can erase any Any perception which has important implications for previous one, is the memory of music, and what what is the memory: FP: That's memory memory of smell? of smell I've always wondered what the is. The memory of a smell is only the of that smell, and not really remembrance.





I'd like to put

into the






memory JC:

I'm never quite of a sound is aside

sure either what

the of the

from the experience

are Idon't have a memory of sound; composers to be able to hear something and then write supposed is said to wake down, but Idon't do that. Leo Ornstein each morning with the music so clearly in his mind up that he dictates it to his wife, who then spends the day it down. writing MF: But the music is dreadful. Is he The question JC: is,what is he dictating? he hears, or is he dictating dictating something something he sees? I think he's dictating from something he sees, don't you? ... This is very FP: Something he saw written A lot of Western music is seen and and not important. heard. JC: MF:

did this year, Ican look back to how students were, say, twenty years before, and the ones now seem to me to in some mysterious way. What had have changed was that they were not only not interested in happened it what students were interested in twenty years ago, but had entirely new interests that Ididn't know they anything about. One came from circular breathing. Of the students ? there were thirty-five ? many could play and they could play it so that the tone was saxophones,

endless. And several of them could play together, like two nervous systems together. They had no concern with any of the things that we would associate with


like it's behaving properly! should be a dictum that contemporary music should be seen and not heard! ... Ihad a very I'm interesting experience with a young composer . . . is very primitive what she showed me teaching who was so primitive that Icouldn't even cope with it. I ? when she came for a first visit, I thought she thought had some experience instruments. The trumpet line with was she showed me in this piece was just way off; it There beyond place,

It sounds

Itdidn't sound like drones, did it? too much. And the other it changed No, because that fascinated them was multiphonics. thing Absolutely crazy about them. Neither of which are drones. But they are not separate from drones really. And the thing that makes them come nearer to the drone is the absence of the bar line, or any feeling about any need for a bar line. JC: of counting, or even time; such things are of was pointing out about the It'smore, as I it'smuch more about space, don't you think? did anyone try to articulate what was on his

Or any way no concern. humidifier, MF: Well, mind?

was just going all over the the bar line, and it you know, some kind of Bach C trumpet, but it


itwent out of the range? You mean was going way out of range, actually it should It So I took itdown about have been really in the middle. an octave, which was still the high F in the treble clef, iton the piano. And I said, "Now hear how and Iplayed it is; it sounds as if it's just there, there's no accessible

is involved. And one of JC: They know that the Orient them had actually gone to North India and had studied . . . Ihave a Tibetan music with some Tibetan teachers. ? I haven't read it fairly thick typescript that he sent me ? with notations from Tibet. yet now is if in fact this by now I wonder FP: What familiar relationship between the Oriental experience and the musical is not being tradition of the West reversed. Is it really that these people are influenced by the Orient, or is it rather that they have some experience here that they didn't they go to the Orient was response to it? I once, made really quite have before, and they find something struck by what LaMonte and then in told me

it's not even high the way one hears iton the problem, she piano. Try and sing it." She starts screeching: it is." And couldn't sing the high F. I said, "That's what ... Idon't know how this she said, "That's amazing." I to what we're talking about, but nonetheless relates she thought like the story, because that she she was actually astounded in her life before, you see; anything hearing them. Which things without it quite never fascinating, really heard

that the most indelible impression for him, what him the musician he is,was the drone of the huge lines crossing the Idaho prairie in his log cabin power where he was born, in the middle of nowhere. And that, he says, childhood, iswhat and important sound his whole work. of his life and it determined experience the sound of the drone of JC: And earlier, for Thoreau, . . . he called Orpheus the electric wires, which Orpheus reborn in the nineteenth century. He thought the most beautiful music he'd ever heard was this constant sound of the electric wires. he remembers was the most it from his earliest

she was just seeing is one of the big music. You know, in contemporary disasters polyphonic is just that: it'smusic that looks music post-Webern good, primarily. was teaching for two weeks in Finland, the last I JC: Idon't do much week of July and the first of August. so that if I have the experience of teaching as I teaching,

Cage: Conversation with Morton



-<s \ "v

John Cage. (4R)/4 (where R = Ryoanji). Drawing; 22.7 x 48.3 cm. Collection

of the artist, New York.

John Cage. (R)/12 (where R = Ryoanji). Drawing; 22.7 x 48.3 cm. Collection

of the artist, New York.



FP: What because


told me also makes


think of this

"Terminable/Interminable" interminable

is no reason why on the face of it he should stop at any time, at any point. There or contracting is a sort of expanding size, when he does the Well Tuned Piano, for example. Even more, of in the Dream House idea. (We haven't truly course, is now heard the piece yet). And Morty's music into these new dimensions, extending although with limits still fixed on paper, while your music has always been JC:

he has been doing in a way. There

that Morty evoked, question these works that are

Iquestion would be very that. It experience quickly? much like taking a look at any of your paintings here in the changing light, you see. The person that did not take as time would be involved with the light of the moment, they're looking at it; but the person that did could not . . . how the help but be distracted by the changes looks throughout the day, and has a very painting different eye than the person who didn't take time. And I it's as if feel that's how I listen to my own longer pieces; there's a continual refraction of light, so to speak ... I'm not quite that's almost the same ? hearing something the same. I'm making comments more as the wheel ? would you say, slowly turns, you see. But two things ? I'm for example, you're interested in Finnegans Wake not trying to make a defense of my Terminable/ Interminable String Quartet? but let's take Finnegans Wake: certainly one page tells the story. JC: MF:

rather short. No, not always.


is two hours and forty

I know. Still, I remember you asking Morty two years ago, about the Quartet, pointedly, "Why so long?" FP:

is it

I still could say, and I think Morty would JC: Well, can be recognized that the experience in a very agree,
few moments.

That's what Okay.

I'm referring to. the sustaining However,


it tells another

But can it really? Icould look at stone, for instance. We all do. JC: Well, Much of our experience ? almost all of our experience ? is brief. You don't feel that you have to look at the stone for five hours. FP: But if you did, wouldn't you learn a lot more about FP: the stone? I'm not so sure; JC: about yourself. FP: Well, that might MF: like?


Yes, of course. And this goes for Proust, too. of And it also goes for the different occupations JC: itor reading it, or listening to it. write When you writing to end. You it, you don't sustain it from beginning

I think you would be important.

learn more

interrupt it. MF: Always. JC: Whereas you have will not be interrupted. MF:


a performance,


JC: What do you think?

is the drone? The drone is almost Actually, what let's think of it as a kind of reductive art, where
. . .


I want to distinguish, JC: though, what we're talking about from what Francesco just said of LaMonte Young's I think we're dealing with a different because work, than the one LaMonte was dealing with. question LaMonte is concerned with things being right rather than wrong. And I'm not concerned with that. It's a different attitude. And that was what you, Morty, were talking about at the beginning, when you mentioned politics or we're all Oriental, then LaMonte is something. Say I think. and Morty and Iare Mahayana ? Hinayana, FP: Yes, it is perhaps a somewhat different question, and it is particularly important, inmy view, what you note about all being Oriental: if everybody isOriental, the relationship MF: Well ? to the Orient getting back ? has radically say, do we changed. have the

Iagree with you, but at the same time if you it to making a dinner... in fact, I had a dinner applied ? at Stony Point, years ago, where weren't you there, David Tudor made the . . . he'd just gotten involved with Indian cooking, but had no facilities whatsoever; he just had a double burner, which he kept underneath a piano in a tiny room, and this actually very simple Indian dinner took about five hours to prepare. In India itmight have taken much longer. MF: Well, we're getting to a very interesting point, one of the most interesting things ? for example, why my students can't write anything more than three minutes FP: long, while my music goes on for days, and Tristan and Isolde is not short. We played at a seminar just a few days ago the Music of Changes, or at least the two that went about telling just recently came out on records. I them how you wrote the Music of Changes, and I heard gasps. "You mean he wrote each vignette"? "Oh yes, there were hundreds of them." "You mean it wasn't was arrived at conceptually?" labor," I said. "Oh, no, it "You might call it process, Icall it labor." And I talked

Cage: Conversation with Morton



'rCi,^ t%.ttfjk\


= John Cage. (R2)/9 (where R Ryoanji). Drawing; 22.7 x 48.3 cm. Collection

of the artist, New York.

= John Cage. R2/17 (where R Ryoanji). Drawing; 22.7 x 48.3 cm. Collection

of the artist, New York.



about which which work

the division of labor in the piece, or inAtlas, was monumental; John. It is not monumental, it is not talked about. This aspect of work discussed, the complex of the piece, the fact that changes itself creates a sense of importance. Now, not have the stature it has unless Finnegans Wake would not have the there was all that work. Proust would


it's opera. With one person, really extraordinary, actually. Or all those Shakespeare plays. With my own concern about rugs, I know that to me the fantastic rug is a rug where the person isworking a few months on end, and resigned to the work at hand, and the work gets concentrated and the choices are simple and humble and you begin to feel the aura of the like rug emerge as a very beautiful thing. Of course, .. . But it is the work, the anything else, not all the time of the work, the loneliness of the work. Do monotony mean you're sitting on some you know what that is? I

into aWagnerian

stature unless there was all that work. Your work have the stature unless there was all that work. wouldn't We can get rid of the stature, but we can't get rid of the work that is essentially for it. Now get responsible out of that one! The work ? you can't do it just yourself . . . . . . but it'smonumental, it's without work by beyond work. I know I've done a great deal of work. But Igo JC: each year now, at least once a year, to see JulieWinter. Do you know her? Do you know her name? MF: No, Idon't. JC: She's an astrologer. She said to me recently that it would now my work used to seem like work, so that it would sound like play . . . change MF: We were visiting a painter the other day ? he said he was here once, he met you: the Italian painter A charming, darling guy. Francesco Clemente. while JC:

rock in the middle of Turkey, just making this thing? Weeks pass after weeks, looking at it, and if nobody's looks at it they make some nasty remark about anybody in New York who make nasty it, like composers in remarks. That aspect of work cannot be dismissed it. I think mean, we cannot dismiss talking about you. I it's responsible ? you know, work goes to work, and leads to other work and other work and other work. So, if you don't feel that you're in the mainstream tradition in the mainstream tradition artistically, you're certainly I'll tell you that. You did a lot of work, John, of Balzac, work; hours and hours and hours and hours. magnificent What have you got to say about work? Would you tell a to you, "I want to artist ? if someone would say young be an artist" ? would you tell him to work? Could you tell him that you could arrive at it without work? in that text that I wrote which JC: Well, actually, is called "The Future of Empty Words, which Icome to the notion of work. I say that's my Music," definition of music, but then as Ipoint out there ? not Winters "It was work but now it will be Julie saying ? as I was writing it the doorbell play" rang and itwas that book coming from William McNaughton with a to me and the reproduction of his translation dedication of Kwang-Tse and a reference to the page that tells of the beautiful tree that had never been cut down simply itswood was not good for anything. Somehow because that is the other side of the coin of work. I know many people that have also MF: Yes. Oh, worked very hard and it's useless. One of the most iswhat determines interesting things about work someone to go and work in certain areas that other mean Freud was a perfect example of I people avoid. mean that instinct I into areas without going precedent. of just researching a particular area; the drones of the Or just to know that there are certain unconscious. Idid an that are basically untrue. For example, things interview about for Percussion music, percussion to know magazine; they wanted and I said that those that write concludes

Yes, and his wife.



their voices,




They're marvelous people. So I looked at a picture and he says, of his, and I said, "That's very beautiful," was I thought it but it's not simple enough." Now, "Yes, not because of the work, but of the work beautiful, which brought simplicity as real simplicity. And he was ? even though he was the artist I know that he himself was going in the wrong direction; he was looking for ... as if he could simplicity as some kind of conceptual

manner. He was annoyed arrive at it in a conceptual that he arrived at it through work. He didn't use those ... And to me it terms, but Icould see that he worked was the work that brought the simplicity. All right, so is play . . . but still, we don't know those you say work works JC: MF: yet. That's the next conversation. ... Maybe I should show you this . . . I know, but we're talking about other monumental ? in your life. A magnificent life all the work elements done in the past. You're not going to negate the you've as work. Just and all night long; Just because you're long doesn't mean because you're working all day long . . . ismisunderstood see, everything all day long and all night working It's that it's that much hard work. Freud or looking at Imagine the work that


work for anybody who's reading Atlas. Even that's misunderstood.

Cage: Conversation with Morton



. ;?&>. *?$tgffi%g

* **?* ?gfe?fe

1 S,''M&


John Cage. Variations 1, 1958. Unpublished manuscript of actual realization by the composer for piano performance. Two-page version, 21.3 x 27.5 cm. each page. Private collection, New York. Copyright 1960 by Henmar Press. Reprinted by permission of
C. F. Peters Corporation, New York.



percussion music are not writing anything future is interesting, while perhaps percussion music's feel are those of its in areas which one would precisely I just snap the fingers in The King of like when failure ? or your cactus piece for instance. The whole Denmark, notion that percussion music has to do with percussion per se, is one of the problems on which people work, is not interesting, to my ears and the work unfortunately idiomatic
at least. Unless .. . Here is Bunita, someone who .. .


. . . I'm the audience You're an immensely not an audience. No, you're would be actually of and I think it gifted composer, some interest if you could just say a little bit on or around the subject that we're talking about. Work

especially. Iprefer the kind of work John was talking about, BM: I like that of the tree that's standing but is totally useless. work should be purposeful. Idon't even know if image. It seems like there's something wrong with it, like ... just work for the sake of work. Maybe capitalism is the only way to get intimate with music; Work really, there's no other way to do it. MF: Or just to discover things. I like to go back to would FP: Talking of discovery, was really what you were saying about LaMonte: I

was so pointed ? when you Struck by that because it were saying that LaMonte wanted things to be right. And all you've been saying today ? from talking everything, about stones to talking of the drone of the refrigerator ? has to do with the recognition rather than with the of beauty, which would be "making things making right." JC: That's right. Inother words, not having an idea about what the pitch of the drone should be; whereas LaMonte would have an idea about what it should be was not right. And Lou and he would it if it recognize Harrison would too, and so would Ben Johnston; in fact the whole world of microtonicity. I think one of the in your recent work, Morty, has been this lovely things . . . involvement with



Yes. The double flats, the double sharps and all music. We have that, which brings about a microtonal an absolute overwhelming need to get into the crevices of our whole experience. MF: But the problem with Ben and so many others in the microtonal world is that they immediately it; they're not listening. conceptualize JC: Then we get interested in the spaces between mean to say, if smaller distances, if that's how it is. I

Cage: Conversation with Morton



W?y ~PT:

i jtf-i'fea?i.* ;>-'iw-.?*-.: .?..^-^^.?^'-^r


John Cage. Variations 1, 1958. Unpublished manuscript of actual realization by the composer for piano performance. Three-page version, 21.3 x 27.5 cm. each page. Private collection, New York. Copyright 1960 by Henmar Press. Reprinted by permission
of C. F. Peters Corporation, New York.



there is a right and a wrong, we want to be in the space in between, which is neither right nor wrong. But it's a fact of our actual experience. I'm about to go, in just January, for the first time inmy life, to Calcutta. Have you been there? I'm so anxious to go, Ican't tell you, and Iprobably won't have enough time to even be there one or two days that I'm there. We'll recognize at the most ? it's absurd ? but that has always been said through my life to be the worst place on earth. And if Ican enjoy the worst place on earth, then everything is fine, don't you think? was driving at, because I FP: This iswhat if the is really the recognition, rather than defining question it be said that it's really is right or wrong, couldn't what ? if it could be called a project, but it's not the project, a project because it's not purposeful ? could we say though that the aim, the final aim, would be the true as beautiful. That really it's a recognition of everything to the point where of enlarging this experience question it practically covers everything, is from traffic which not a drone . . . hence discontinuous, it But it has the implication of a drone, because MF: up in the same world, as if it just went and it just came back again in the same underground There's an implication of eternity going there, place. picks I'll bet you will get involved with the silences. will be politicized, the value judgments, where again it that some people will feel that the traffic and the ismuch more interesting. You know Champs ?lys?es that story about John Cage and the imperfections of the John wrote these series of paper? You know, when there was an imperfection on wherever pieces where, the paper, he made a mark and that was the sound. And there was a young man in Darmstadt who suggested to was all right if he made his own imperfections Cage if it on an empty page in order to make the result more interesting. . . JC: Have better paper. MF: Have better imperfections. JC: Much more interesting! The interview before this one was conducted and by two ladies from Montreal, not just me they had gotten the notion of interviewing interview but some other people ? they may very well you. But they started out from Murray Schaeffer, you know, and his book on tuning the world, and the ideas and so on. And their last of sound and the environment, ? to me question they were very nice people and we their last question was "What would had a nice time ? And I said, be the ideal environment acoustically?" it is "You must look at your question and see what you're saying; it just doesn't make sense." I said, "The even with

environment is there, and the ideal is in your head." And the two were quite ? quite astonished. Fortunately, we had talked a good deal before so they understood was saying. I what MF: But Ialways loved that young man in the I thought it just typifies, just story, because how one would then want to conceptualize epitomizes You know, as I'm teaching all anything philosophically. these years Iget somewhat upset about it, because feels he can do anything unless he evidently nobody creates a hierarchy of premises, whether these premises . . and that I would be in perfected paper, whatever. find very, very disturbing. Well, outside of the fact that say, from the last generation of things have changed, to you in like what happened people writing music, do you feel that things basically have changed Finland, Darmstadt the days you studied with Sch?nberg? Do you feel that things have actually changed? Or would you feel, rather, that their concern with breathing or with is just a substitution of one pedantic idea multiphonics for another? share the interest in with the young people. multiphonics MF: That's where you were leading to. JC: But, say I'mwriting for flute, or, as just recently, for I have a note at the beginning of the oboe piece oboe, now that says that if some multiphonics happen to creep JC: Well, worry about MF: Which


I find that Idon't

in in the course of playing it. happens when

. . .

this piece

you don't

have high


they start playing

that's okay; not in JC: Yes. So that if that happens, search of it, however. MF: But why aren't you interested inmultiphonics? one of the things I'm thinking of getting now JC: Well, is a word processor. That will help me with my writing with so that it can help me and that will also be a computer some of my l-ching calculations. It's conceivable that if Icould get into that computer all the necessary so that I information about multiphonics wouldn't have

to think about it, that I it. But might be able to deal with at the present time my impression of it is that it's very and not anything that you can actually put amorphous on. Iknow that's wrong. your finger MF: Idon't know how wrong that is. was amazed when an oboist came to visit me. He I JC: had written a letter. Ididn't reply to the first one because was on tour; then he wrote a second. He got in touch I to get me to with Mimi Johnson; he was determined write an oboe piece. Finally Icalled him up; he lives in Baltimore ? and he came to see me, and he brought

Cage: Conversation with Morton Feldman


primers. Have you ever looked at such books? Itbegins with a scale believe my eyes, Morty. of twenty-four notes. They don't bother with the twelve tones or seven tones; the instrument is basically two oboe Icouldn't microtonal. It's very, very hard to play the twelve-tone scale on an oboe; you have to practically bite the reed and keep your teeth in exactly the same position so as to come out with a reasonable twelve-tone scale, because the instrument wants to slide all the time. MF: Bunita wrote a beautiful flute piece, John, called in a very stunning Solo inwhich she uses multiphonics


No, if it goes out again, then it's like an object. Your music sounds like it's always coming BM: in, and Morton's music sounds like it always was in. FP: Yes, that's exactly what happens when listening was already there. So the Morton's music; it's as if it environment is inside. to


JC: MF: uses

I'm certain it'smarvelous. One of the things that makes it stunning is that she it as material, you know, it's like painting with it and getting out of it and in it, and it is just beautiful. She hears the nuances of it as a drone; a very complicated sound experience. JC: You can put your finger on it, isn't that it? BM: Well, it's an ?mage; I use it as a sequence of seven multiphonics, as an image . . . But it's not maybe there for color or anything like that; it's just functional within it's going. It's not itself and as to where

I think now would be the John, let me get to what is final question. One thing that certainly has changed was a kid you would never see a full-page I that when ad for a funeral plot. So, along with sex and money, also death, you see, is not an area of taboo anymore; but let us get to the last one, which is a terrific area of taboo,

the question of "giftedness." Are you familiar with remark where he goes to a friend excitedly, Hindemith's and he says, "Look, I invented a system where even if you're stupid you can use it"? How about this whole business ? the fact that some people are more gifted than others? How can one control that unfortunate aspect of nature? is that a gift is actually a handicap. JC: My impression I see where perhaps Philip Guston had too MF: Okay. much were own that his eyes taste, and Jasper would complain too good. And I'm continually fighting with my ears. Then a gift is a handicap. But what happens he became so gifted that

I think a very good book just put out by the JC: There's Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, by Dick and the very first text deals called Horizons, Higgins, with the avant-garde, it as this and he defines Isn't that interesting? involvement with material. BM: And I think, if Icould just interject something here ? that you are involved with material, and I think comes where the misinterpretation in, for instance with ? the drone, the circular breathing and the multiphonics is that they don't see it as material; they see it as . . . as a technique technology, JC: Something you could use for some other purpose Yes, but not as material, in. believe BM: not as something to


you have those gifts? music JC: Beethoven's improved when deaf. I've known many artists who were their work was of no interest. MF: Well,

let's talk about a happy balance of gifted people doing gifted work. FP: If the gift is a handicap, can it be said then that the is a pharmacon ? work it's a medicine, something with which you correct the handicap, with which you deal with the handicap. JC: Probably. What Morty was saying about paying attention

JC: Right.
ismaterial? FP: What isn't that what it It's the nature of the environment, JC: is? BM: Excellent. Yes. It seems to be outside of us, but we are able to JC: to it.And then we have the impression open ourselves in to us. When that it's coming you listen, do you have the feeling that a sound staying outside? in. MF: It's coming JC: But doesn't is coming in to you, or that it's

and taking care. One would pay special attention to those parts of his whole experience that were not gifted. For example, MF: all those plants in the other room ? they're taken care of; they look it.And you have a gift ? you have a green thumb. all that means is paying attention. JC: Well, Ibet they require a lot of MF: And it requires work; work. How do we handle that? How do we handle the contradiction that to be gifted could be a negative thing, yet you possibly can't do anything unless you have Ihave teaching, you see. those gifts? That's the problem I'm teaching in a democracy, in a public Essentially institution. I'm teaching young are not gifted for what I would people who essentially feel would be that

it go right out again?



Morton Feldman. Projection 4, for violin and piano, 1951, page 1. Copy made by John Cage
eliminating Copyright on which the graph it had been written paper by originally 1959 by C. F. Peters Corporation. Reproduced by permission. the composer, Courtesy and used Michael

in his own handwriting

for publication. 35.5

x 27.5 cm.


Iheard a very funny story particular vocation. However, the other day with Morton Sobotnick. There was a young fellow out inCal Arts, and Mel Powell worked with him for a year and nothing happened. And then Morty Sobotnick worked with him for a year and to tell the and they finally decided nothing happened, kid that he was just wasting his time there and he should and the young man looked at go. So they had a meeting both of them and said, "Did itever occur to you that I might be a genius and you don't know it?" They looked at each other and said, "Yes, there is that possibility." Do you feel that gift, or ungiftedness, is not a Of course we know that yesterday's measurable thing? I've been gifted people are today's non-gifted people. a lot of Stockhausen, and I think we made a playing mistake about that fellow. JC: That he was gifted? MF: Yes.

In Europe they always thought he was gifted. I think he was gifted. He had a number of children JC: haven't they? So and they've all become musicians, FP:
there music. was some transmittable . . . involvement with


You mean

carrying on the family business,


is that it seemed I think what is true of Stockhausen JC: was making to us that the music was avant-garde, that it was actually very but itwasn't doing that. It discoveries, . . . the old conservative. Nothing was being revealed places of emphasis were being reaffirmed. Iguess what Morty's asking about is the question FP: ? what is of the gift and the question of transmission the gift (and being gifted), and the relationship between and to whom does one transmit? Is the transmission ? there a transmitting that is beyond the gift? MF: Yes. And along with that, this whole idea where

Cage: Conversation with Morton



? but don't you say that the gift could be in the way at this extraordinary change that they know it? Look ... or even Guston, mean extraordinary I Jasper made, so many painters. Or Joyce, who was always getting away from that which he did very well, from the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to the writing of Ulysses that certainly seemed far out enough; and then ? that's a Finnegans Wake, of course. You yourself a lot of students who play a certain period of shocker for yours and then immediately go into the Music of Changes. You yourself got rid of your own gifts the way lobsters get rid of their shell. But it's the gifted people that seem to do that; the people that are not gifted . .. Ican't think of Phil Glass changing; Let's put it this way. Ican't think of expecting in his life. any changes FP: Perhaps the not truly gifted are always trying to
"treasure" something.

closer to the drone, and the old near the drone. So I think what's anywhere is that when I start to work now I'm trying to happening in response to those drones, and that I haven't found go getting idea wasn't my way yet. was really meaning, I MF: Well, that's essentially what that he did something simple back to Clemente, getting by way of work and he thought that too complicated And I think because he didn't arrive at it conceptually. to just talk about drones, it's really easy, conceptually, but then inwriting it, just notating it, in the complication of arriving at it, at such a reductive sound experience after all the years that you have been working, you still it goes to show you. have difficulty ? I think it's also the difficulty that makes you work. BM: too easy for you, you're not interested. If it's can you tell us more about MF: Those multiphonics,
them . . .


idea was


in their look at the changes Stravinsky, Sch?nberg: lives. Look at the way all these marvelously gifted left marvelously successful areas in their lives. people would agree that the gift So, on the one hand, yes I But I think it also could get in one's way tremendously. acts like a fantastic protagonist inwhich one has something to measure,


They're within half steps. The alter voices were away and together in half steps, inmultiphonics. ? it's not a widely JC: But it's coming to a line . . . jumping thing was really was just like half full steps. It BM: Right, it

that is, one develops the gift of in approaching in a way that something being ungifted doesn't rely on past notions. I mentioned the pieces for oboe and a piece of JC: and they all have the same title, Ryoanji, percussion, and now I'mmaking some songs with the same title and wrote I thought that I should make a difference. First I was as some songs that were just like the oboe pieces. It was continuing writing for the oboe, and I though instead was writing for the voice. And I thought, "No, must write it is different, and I the voice Ibegan to write something different, and differently." in the dark, not again I felt myself to be "ungifted," ... I was made knowing how to do it.And so finally I that's wrong, the plants and Ihad rather clearly inmy mind watering the impression of how I would go about writing for the voice. And so Ipicked up the phone and called the made an appointment, singer and I actually for yesterday two days ago. So then when yesterday getting closer and closer to the time of was almost on the point of saying seeing the singer, I "No, it isn't right," and calling her up and saying that to go on there was no need for it. But then Idecided with and I showed her what the new idea was and it, came, and was the oboe idea then what the oboe idea was, and it that was right. You could tell when she sang it. Not only from how it sounded but from the way she seemed to be she was when looking at the music. So then actually the at 2:00. This was was it

counterpoint. that's very interesting. When we JC: There's something were much younger, we were in the time of music sounds leaping. We're coming to a jumping, leaping, time when don't do that as much. they How could you explain our work being so MF: different, and we're both not leaping anymore?

? Francesco and Bunita ? said that JC: When you music is already in you when you hear it,what Morty's did you mean? was trying to think of it. . . but I think I said I FP: and proceeding without "already there," beginning or something like that. "surprises," nor can JC: You can't have meant the relationships, you have meant the experience. What did you mean? meant was that the FP: One thing at least I think I effect of surprise is not primary, and so once you start it'swhen it's already inside really listening to the music ? I should say hear it you. By the time you really see it ? in fact you hear it first in one way, because there is ? and sound in the air, and then you hear it again it's "inside you" . . . when you hear it again, it'swhen This of course to some extent is true in the case of all ? music, but in some other musical experiences ? in the "leaping" experiences this or the perhaps effect of surprise iswhat appears as primary. When one inmy view, there is a tension, a sense listens toWebern,



and then of being constantly in relation to to an "object." Morty mentioned the object, be very interested if you could talk about the object. What is a musical object? (And what is the of music?) Not just the musical piece ? that is object also a very interesting question ? Terminable/ Interminable: what are the limits of the piece, what is a ? but also the "musical object," piece? l'objet musical. I think that listening to So, to go back to your question, Iperceive, especially in his latest work, not so Morty much his "middle" work ? I have the sense that it is a kind of internal journey to listen to one of his works, in a way that Ihaven't felt perhaps as much with any other But I haven't listened to your most recent composer. I have only heard your earlier work. music; like "internal I have trouble with those expressions, JC: journey." What do you mean? I know; they sound mystifying, and perhaps even FP: ? but let me try again, if you insist, and itmight corny even help the conversation along. Iam not a musician, so Ican only speak about music non-technically, The journey I referred to I through images, metaphors. perceive almost as a kind of spell, where beauty leads A to a recognition of nothingness. you on, unwittingly, listener's caught, trapped familiar which explores strangely, disquietingly spiral, ? . . . there is, however, a there is no discovery Again, sense of the sense of "progress," in the etymological ? hence a "journey." of movement word, "through" BM: With many composers, it's as if there was a tension between the environment and the philosophical and as the piece progresses you learn the internal, or you go into it; you go into it, and there's philosophy like an introduction to it, and a middle and something an end to it. But with Morton they're one and the same, and as the piece starts you are already there one and the same, and you remain one and the same. The environment and the internal are both the same and it's that way from the first moment, and there's no ever. It just starts, there, and introduction to his music, then he takes it from there, and then it ends . . .And there's no sort of back and forth between the internal in a lot of music and the environment ? which just . . . it sound directional makes JC: But you said that in the case of my work, that was not the case. In other words, in as that my music comes new to the inside, but that Morty's music something comes as something in and is recognized that is already

of discovery an outside, and I would

in; it's already there. said: it's already there. But itdoes JC: you come in, and you know it. FP: Your music, John, is a discovery, always, for me. of yours Tve heard, it's always been a Every single piece was talking about before I It's this recognition discovery. ? a recognition of beauty. There is always a recognition of an unheard universe of sound of a new dimension ? I see emerging that through most new pieces of yours. no such ... ? JC: And there's BM: His doesn't That's what FP: BM: Not in the same way, not as a surprise, a discovery


I think that in It's strange with Morton, because and as he works he thinks that he is sounds and he is revealing sounds to us, but discovering in his own pad, they're sounds that he's creating they're his mind like yours are sounds that of the environment to us so that we listen to them . .. you bring not bringing any sounds. JC: But I'm FP: But you bring the recognition of the sounds, the not sounds

spell, because once in. The


is no turning away,

nor going back, in a beautiful

I mysterious. unnecessarily out of to say you're making something mysterious that is not mysterious. something FP: If Iam being mysterious it is only out of . . . I'm trying to describe obtuseness. ? ? when Bunita that JC: When says you say it comes is already there when in, I find something unable to accept that kind of thinking. myself absolutely mean That would immediately goes to the notion that something else as having been come in and not be recognized and so would not be the same thing. there, BM: That's not necessarily the opposite, though. no. But it then does exactly what Morty was JC: No, ? talking about earlier politicizing. it does . . . BM: In a way JC: When we say certain things are white and certain things are black. BM: But Morton

discovery. JC: But so isMorty. FP: No. Iguess you're being JC:

is political,

very political,

in his own


How's that? ? just by your selection; by the way you use By . I think, in view of. . Morton, instruments, your whole is one of the most extremely political many ways He's so adamant about instruments; and yet composers. mean he would drop an instrument in a he is not. I second for the sake of art or music. BM: Ihave no loyalty for instruments.


Cage: Conversation with Morton



But at the same time you do; it's very strange. is to music and to your your commitment Obviously own talent. BM: MF: It's caring. You take a little baby out on a little and the baby has to go poo-poo, walk, you're not going to dump the baby in the garbage can; you have to continue with the problem of taking a walk with a little baby. There are sometimes problems at hand, that's all. I itoverly understand what John means by making but I think what's actually just mysterious mysterious, about my music is that I'm doing something and I'm to it; that's all. And what's mysterious is listening someone who's actually doing something that's being ? rather than just thinking heard. It's very mysterious Igave Webern ? and using it as a . .. Like in something a very strict attack on Webern's orchestration the other it to Peter and the Wolf but with notes day, comparing rather than with a story line. And where the whole didactic element we were to, as if to be what we're is supposed listening to some kind of lecture about listening I'm not really lecturing. If Igive a lecture, it something. a lecture on listening and I'm saying, "Now look, you is can't choke this violin to death; if you listen, it'smoving .. ." You know, I'm trying not to get in the way. But things are coming out of me and these things are coming no differently, for example, sitting and writing, half tremendously the other half a little bit... you hear the music than Joyce as he's and concentrated,

choice. So Iget very upset at what are these choices. Are they ear choices? Do they have to do with old ideas we have about music, just in terms of voice leading? At Idon't need the same time there are occasions where voice leading and the music sounds just as good. So that I doesn't help. There's really nothing Ican arrive at, why the made those choices, and I'm very upset because choices sound so good. That would be the gifted ear in the way. Now, what my String Quartet is, is a getting . . . of very beautiful material complete disintegration where would follow other things which before I things found unacceptable and now sounded gorgeous. So, it's would put one like the l-ching, in that I very much sound against another sound find acceptable. And it winds would not that initially I towards the end where up to accept everything. I'm beginning But Ican't go Ican't start at the end like Clemente, you through stages. and I then have see; Ihave to start from the beginning,

to kind of plow through every idea towhich Idecide to

all the give that X-ray scrutiny, and I then disintegrate So what the material material. really is, is that it starts out like Proust and winds up like Finnegans Wake. And it's very painful and it adds to the beauty of the piece, you could formally call it actually. Now, whether Idon't know. Is the theme and Variations," and the variations would be another kind of But that essentially became almost like a phenomenon? Inever really wrote a piece law of the piece; like that, "Theme Feldman, was it is the complete that the way so to speak, of all that which, say, two or destroying, three years ago I would have been so lucky to have had as material. However, that's only because my in the piece is only through one question involvement but it seems in heaven's name ismaterial that I'm asking. What And what the kind of material that Icould anyway? write that is . . . "Could Iadopt an orphan," so to speak, I iswhat it amounts to: can Iadopt an orphan? So when I usually have some kind of problem of going incognito into a sound world and trying to find out just what's happening without me ? without my it a successful piece. And with this piece taste, making (the Quartet) more than others. And it just took an awful long time. I in no way could describe what the formula do write a piece or the procedure would be for me to start this composition going. Maybe what Bunny means, what is that they feel that I'm not telling a Francesco means,

out of me

JC: Morty, Yes. MF:

you write?

it's a This is not mysterious, JC: This is the difference. fact that you hear it before you write it, right? Ialmost hear it and Ican MF: Sometimes. Sometimes it. I'm not taking dictation. almost write ? or is it JC: You mean you do hear it, or you don't that you don't quite hear it? MF:

It's in the middle.

I write

it down

in order

to hear

Idon't hear a thing. work. JC: But that's how I I'm not really hearing it. I'mwatching MF: No, it, I'm it. Idon't believe Idon't buy it, Idon't it; observing to demonstrate. it's supposed Ido know one know what the theme of my new String thing, which became Quartet, and I think you might be interested in the theme. One of the things that upsets me, and has always is that, for example, say Ihave fifteen chords upset me, not that I'm always annoyed ? that I just wrote down. I'm not talking the chords have any, real, function, about that? but I'm always annoyed that if I shift the chords around, say, the fifth chord, Idon't like the

JC: What continues movement.

I think you mean is that as the music it stays, so to speak, where it is,with some ismysterious but is never And the movement



surprising. So that you're in the presence of something that is not completely static, but is nearly so. Italmost sounds like a drone. MF: Yes. So that you begin to think that you are in your experience. rather than changing remaining, Itgives you that impression, but you are BM: JC: changing. Itgives you that impression. So that you get the JC: idea that the sounds as they come into you are already I'm trying to make realistic for me there. Inother words, the mysterious things that you said earlier. Inother words something like memory goes into work, because you hear a soft sound and then you hear that the next one is not any louder than the previous one. FP: But there is the definition of a space; there is something

I've always had the that has to be taken into account. side to Morty's music, feeling that there is a Talmudic that you find that the kind of searching circumlocutions a certain are at work here, mapping in Talmudic thought area of consciousness. He does that through sound; he explores certain areas of sound, and in that sense they I wasn't trying to become internal. You see that's why ? . . With your music . Idon't have that. . . be mysterious It'smore Zen, if you like; it'smore the form of discovery is in the tree, in the stone, in the river. . . of that which as a potential. It's that Other; it's that Surprise . . .Yours are two different forms of meditation, inmy view, or, if but not identical forms of you prefer, two analogous religion. JC: Let me show you something. Does this relate to that thing that you were just saying, or not? That's one of my dry points . . . It's gorgeous. MF: It's very recent. This is perhaps more FP: like Morty's

very "physical"
. . .


the kind of

to be mysterious JC: There I think you're beginning the space is not changing. I'm thinking of again, because the times that I've heard Morty's music recently: the sound comes from the same place; the instruments are all grouped


in the most



MF: FP: JC: what


Itcouldn't be more so. is the external environment.

I'm trying to find out. JC: That's what BM: Well, you know, at the risk of making things even or not, worse here, in terms of being mysterious is not systematic. Morton's music ismine. JC: Neither BM: But a lot of times people get the impression is. your music Iknow they do, but it isn't. JC: BM: Because inMorton's music that

So that there's nothing unusual about that. In fact, is that the unusual doesn't seem to you're enjoying is unusual everything; at the same you mean time. You're everything

be occurring. BM: But everything not aware of it. JC: You don't mean BM:

in the music. In the piece, yes. FP: Because it's not the same as listening to your ... I was trying, as you were talking before, to music think how it is different ? and it's very different. With tends to be immediately you the environment unfamiliar. With Morty, the unfamiliarity ismore the total effect than the (immediately) given. JC: A young fellow who has helped me with some of is himself a composer, my work recently, and who (the Culver, heard this piece that you mentioned Quartet). He didn't hear all of it, but he must have heard a recording of part of it somehow, was and he said it as though and immediately so, beautiful, just amazingly some kind of revelation of beauty had happened. is influenced by what one knows about Morty, and who he is, and his mind, and ifone is intimate with him to some extent one is even more influenced when listening to his music, of course, so FP: One Andrew

that anything could happen. that sense from piece to piece, but Idon't always get that sense within a piece, because there are limits on what could happen. JC: What are they? BM: idea of the piece. idea of the piece, right. There is no idea. JC: of what BM: And the availabilities The The FP: . .

there's always a sense But in your music it's only


could happen that idea. Idon't think that's true. JC: I'm very BM: Well, tell me why not, because Ihave. this is the impression interested; you're other

saying, that certain things not be things would a body of think that there's the from which the beginning, Ihave work proceeds. And that's not the case. Actually, ? the feeling inMorty's music that that ismore present that certain things will happen and other things won't. MF: Possibly, but I'm not aware of it. JC: Because of what would be possible and possible, because you set up at relationships

Cage: Conversation with Morton








Morton Feldman. String Quartet II, 1983, page 96. Copyright Universal Editions, London.



but that would come ? if it did come ? it. hearing the music as you write BM: about that, I think. Yes, you're right MF: Yes, but 1don't really hear it. JC: No, JC:


scores and everything be different, and yet they are is so important the same way; the notation composing both of them and how they work at it and use it.And they feel exactly the same. To me it philosophically seems


Ifyou don't I know

really hear

it, then that's your saving




be true if you both feel that

Idon't really hear it. that; that's why because if I would hear it, that's when the Naturally, would conceptualization harden, as they would say. BM: that's where you're similar. Neither Right. Well, one of you hear the next sound. In your music it's inMorton's music it's just the already planned that way; from note to note. way he composes Ihaven't planned anything. JC: . . . BM: That was a bad choice of words MF: I feel that my music creates a misunderstanding because of the peculiar syntextual ? is there a only . . . word like "syntextual"? ? but it's a nice word no, I think what Idislike, or what I'm trying to put my JC: that was made between finger on, in the distinction ? what Idislike is that kind Morty's work and my work of difference, so that. . . actually, . .. Ididn't talk about that difference . . We've that. already eliminated mean when you say that there's an interior I JC: that comes from ... landscape, and that something FP: Let me say it a little more clearly. When I listen to I'm brought to think about the world. your music, FP: BM: of you. JC: Outside FP: Through the beauty of the music. The beauty's in your music, in the beauty's always there. The beauty's ? that's not the question. The incredible Morty's music ? more or less than Morty's? ? it's beauty of the music the mind, just a different form of beauty that moves orients the mind, in a different way. I find that when I listen to your music I'm oriented towards discoveries that have to do with the world. When I listen to Morty's it doesn't make me think about anything; it only music, makes me think about itself. I'm closed in into that doesn't go anywhere. That's why I'm something or "interior" about a closed-in talking landscape. Morty thinks about Joyce but is truly closer to Proust, and Beckett, perhaps. You are closer to Joyce, inmy view. BM: as listeners, we're trying in our minds Francesco, to find out why things sound different because John made itor because Morty made it. But to these two men there's no difference between I think they them. I mean, both feel that they approach everything the same way. Which is amazing to me; it's simply amazing to me . . . how these two people could sound so different and their



To what degree we don't hear is questionable. I think we hear maybe more than we might think we hear. But the whole idea is to accept by way of our the notation so to speak, and notation, by following it, that I think iswhere we're close. You accepting . idea . . My biggest argument with know, and the whole I'll continually students is that while say to them, "Why didn't you do this? This looks . . ." They respond, "Oh, I didn't like it." I say, "What makes you think that it has it has anything to do with what you like? That's not what to do with, what you like" . . . BM: But it's like in TeKwanDo. You have two people who are doing exactly the same thing, the same pattern with the same intention, but because their bodies are come out differently. And shaped differently the motions they look different and the flow looks different, and the energy looks different; and to the audience they seem different. To the two people involved they're completely


each doing the identical thing. I regret that one of the faults of my music might be itwould that unfortunately sound like music ? the conventional instrumentation that you wouldn't expect, or things like that... At the same time I feel its dangers are that it has nothing to do with music. My providing for conventional is growing, is only instruments, which I feel that these instruments are flexible, because like I find that a violin is quite flexible; a piano is people. Ihave no aesthetic reason other than they're flexible. I'm becoming flexible. much involved with the flats very

and the double flats, and the double sharps, and I'm I just certainly not going to get them on the clarinet. wrote a clarinet quintet, inwhich I use a little bit of spelling, but only on one note; on a forty-five-minute Ionly use a different spelling on one note, and it piece ? turns out that I was kind of right, that it didn't need it all it needed was that one note. It was a wobble the B and C-flat, just that little bit of movement, between and that was the only note. Oh, Idon't want this to into any kind of what big differences John and I develop is in our life-style and have; I think the big difference our personality. I feel that John's work and life are open, and I feel that my work and my life are to some degree closed. But I feel that though it's closed, the element that it does open into is John's world to some degree. Inmy

Cage: Conversation with Morton Feldman




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little world

JC: Morty, what MF: My work? JC: MF:

Iam very open to John's music. makes you think it's closed?

without any kind of judgment, without feeling that I'm "discovering Idon't know what is the environment America," my is in; certainly not the "natural environment" world and of "art." Idon't want to certainly not the environment sound corny, but that's my existential condition. JC: That has to do with what you have said, with that is to say, the literature of music. But. . . models, One of the beauties of your work, for example, is that your music ? that some of the most striking things
ever wrote, and are writing now, were for

Yes, your world. ? it's because, My world

that seems to push the something more activated, motion of the piece. JC: But there are loud sounds? MF: Oh yes, there are a lot of loud sounds. BM: A lot of ugly sounds, too. Ialways felt that my music A lot of ugly sounds. MF: was not as beautiful as people would think. It's very if you look at them from a like those Mondrians: much so clean, and when you get near, the distance they look was only into the white, you know. It black is smeared in the last phase of the boogie-woogie series that he was only in his American would put masking tape ... it tape, you see. Ialways period that he put masking like that, absolutely much thought that my music was more gritty. I think its beauty is that there is a lot of I in it, too, more ugliness than comes to mind. ugliness mean in recent years. Perhaps my earlier pieces didn't like to really take a more have that aspect. But I would attitude about any kind of difference philosophical us. Going back to Freud ? the same article. between He makes the point that to understand anything you first it's very difficult to otherwise have to generalize; I it.And then apropos of my seminar where understand was discussing at length your Music of Changes, and the historical problems at the time, I would say, "Is this a or in relation, say, to Stockhausen generalization or a particularization in terms of what Cage Boulez, it's a particularization. wanted?" Obviously, Many saw I said that this was a all this music as a generalization; And I talked about all the elements of false assumption. it absolutely the piece that made specific: that the notation being in space was very important, the fact that you weren't using other historical things like trying to set meter into rhythm, or rhythm into meter, or things like that. So this whole idea? about the particularization One of my big of things . . . and the generalization about the mad scramble for say, for example, problems, seems to have been with us all these parameters which ? is that no one could either particularize them or years them enough. So I think about these things in generalize a very philosophical I'm really way. Actually, what is that, and maybe only because trying to say, perhaps, of your music, and certainly no one else's music could is that terms like detail, particularization, tell me this? to make us is supposed all that which generalization, no longer seem to be apropos, you see. The only hear, I feel between you and me is the maybe naive difference on my part that there's something in the assumption material that might formulate into language, as a kind of


instruments. This came up in my class with conventional the Music of Changes, and your early piano music, and for Violin and Keyboard, your String your Six Melodies a classic. What has become is striking Quartet, which about a lot of your music is that you didn't get involved with the 1950s and 1960s stereotyped orchestration that that period is now known for. I think that an obvious difference, and a real our work is that your music, what between difference, JC: I've heard recently and for many years now, is all within a narrow dynamic range; it tends to be quiet. Is that wrong thinking, or right? I MF: would say it'swrong. is characterized JC: My work by being both loud and


say that, logically, you're right. Idon't mean mean physically. I logically; the logical-physical aspect of it all, Through

I would

you're right. Ihear. JC: That's what MF: but my music Yes,



loud. of phenomenon; that I haven't there are some use some crashing,

JC: Why not?

MF: Because it's not into that kind that's another kind of phenomenon. written loud sounds in recent years; instrumental pieces where Iactually triple forte. Not

JC: You do?

MF: very strikingly. Ido it a little too well; maybe Idon't use it. No, I have in recent years used that's why a lot of loud sounds, I would say. And even my new ? but String Quartet opens up with very loud sounds I'mmixing you don't know it's loud. And the way it, you're not aware that it's loud. You're aware that there's Oh,

Cage: Conversation with Morton




language. And I'm giving that up. That's what concern was in this new string said that my whole ? that perhaps there isn't a language, that quartet
perhaps . . .

MF: got BM:

Iagree. into this.

I tried to avoid

it; Idon't

know how we

a John got into it, because he wanted Actually, we listen picture of why we heard different things when
to your two musics.

I think that this conversation is in a mistaken JC: Idon't think it's right to talk about the direction. two people, any more than it would between differences be right to talk about the difference between an apple mean that your music and a pear. I'm not so sure that I an apple or a pear, or has that kind of nature, is either I think it has something much more mysterious because ? that it could have been one thing and became in something else. But I think that what's wrong is talking about two different things conversation same time, and I think that that is a mistake and lead to interesting thoughts, either on my part or
part, or on Francesco's part.

But this is a most conventional MF: way of trying to arrive at something, you know, the comparison method. But maybe with your generation, maybe you are BM: teaching us and maybe we should learn that this is no in terms of the longer a valid way. And obviously, no longer valid, that's for sure. it's world, ... it dulls FP: You're quite right about comparison what is specific, which is the only thing that's interesting. isn't given then to either thing, but is JC: The attention Idon't in between. rather given to some no-man's-land in a way that is in the spirit of Morty's works think it work or in the spirit of my work.

the at the doesn't on your