Aleatory And Compositions Of John Cage Music Essay

compositional and instrumental methods utilized by John Cage. The biographical background, educational influences and examples of the musical compositions of Cage will also be illustrated. This paper continues by describing the various methods and processes employed by John Cage in the formation of music written during the minimalist movement. Contrived instruments, ambient audience noise, non-traditional tone structures and electronic music will be identified and defined. Furthermore, this paper will explore the debate over aleatoric music as art form versus noise. Traditionally, Western music is highly structured and organized- however, music written in aleatory form generally lacks traditional instrumentation, time, and other methods present in Western forms. According to whom one would ask, aleatoric music can be extremely complex, emotional and intellectual. On the other hand, there are those who believe aleatoric music is nothing more than random noise with no structure, rhyme or reason. Over the course of this paper, the reader will be able to discern that aleatoric music is a definitive musical genre.
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Introduction
Aleatoric music refers to musical compositions where some aspect of the music is left to chance. The tempo, instrumentation, dynamics, order of the written music, or various other devices can be manipulated. Simply put, aleatoric music is left up to some amount of chance. However, the amount of chance is not immeasurable. In many cases, the composer only allows a portion of the entire composition to chance while the rest conforms to standard Western-influenced counterpoint. The American composer John Cage was one of the foremost composers who utilized aleatory in musical works. He was also the father of the avant-garde in music during the minimalist movement.
THESIS:
By studying the devices used in Cage’s compositions, the argument will be clearly made that aleatoric music, while sometimes free in form and function, is clearly a structured art form and not random noise.
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Aleatoric Music of the 20th Century:
Compositions of John Cage – An Art Form, Not Noise
Outline:
Aleatoric Music
Explicative definition of aleatoric music
Overview of aleatoric devices
John Cage
Early life and education
B. Utilization of aleatoric devices in compositions
Thesis support
Compare and contrast with opposing viewpoint
Acknowledge and dismiss opposing view utilizing evidenciary support
Conclusion
Summarize main points
Reinforce the argument that aleatoric music is not random
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Selena Markham
MUS 2930
Dr. Valerie Austin
November 22, 2010
Aleatoric Music of the 20th Century:
Compositions of John Cage – An Art Form, Not Noise
Aleatoric music refers to musical compositions where some aspect of the music is left to chance. The tempo, instrumentation, dynamics, order of the written music, or various other devices can be manipulated. Simply put, aleatoric music is left up to some amount of chance. However, the amount of chance is not immeasurable. In many cases, the composer only allows a portion of the entire composition to chance while the rest conforms to standard Western-influenced counterpoint. The American composer John Cage was one of the foremost composers who utilized aleatory in musical works. He was also the father of the avant-garde in music during the minimalist movement. By studying the devices used in Cage’s compositions, the argument will be clearly made that aleatoric music, while sometimes free in form and function, is clearly a structured art form and not random noise.
One of the most prolific composers of music in aleatory, John Cage, was born September 5, 1912 in Los Angeles, California. He was the only child of
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parents Lucretia and John Cage, Sr. (two other sons passed away as infants). His father was an inventor and his mother worked on and off as a writer for the Los Angeles Times. The couple met in Greeley, Colorado. John Cage, Sr.’s father was a Baptist minister who felt music was of the Devil. His mother, Lucretia (her maiden name was Harvey) was considered rebellious because she read books (a practice her family forbade). The young couple fled the restrictive atmosphere of Colorado for the more welcoming state of California. John Cage, Sr. had an avid interest in undersea vessels and, in fact, invented a device that was used in the English Channel to successfully detect German submarines during World War I. The intellect and innovative spirit of his mother and father would serve young Cage well throughout his lifetime. (Rich 142).

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As early as age eight, the young Cage began to express an interest for music that was slightly outside of the norm. While taking piano lessons with his aunt, the young boy confessed he enjoyed the music of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (Rich 145). When Cage graduated in 1928, his grades earned him the record of having the best academics in Los Angeles High School’s history. From high school, Cage spent two years at Pomona College (Struble 287).
While at Pomona College, he studied ministry and writing. (Rich 145). Cage then went on hiatus to Europe for two years. While there, he composed many short works, some using mathematical formulas. Unfortunately, Cage did
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not save these early works- as he traveled, he would go through his belongings and discard any non-essential items in order to lighten his load (Nicholls 175).
He returned to the United States in 1931 and in 1933, John Cage began to study piano under Richard Buhlig, who introduced the composer to serialism, an aleatoric musical device. Serialism is “music which has been written with a high degree of organization” (Brindle 17). Since Buhlig had premiered serialist composer Arnold Schoenberg’s composition Three Piano Pieces, Cage hoped Buhlig would introduce him to Schoenberg. Instead, Cage’s first published piece, Sonata for Clarinet (1933), brought him to the attention of Henry Cowell, a professor teaching the “new music” at the New Music Society of California in San Francisco. Though Cage was able to informally study with Schoenberg, Cowell was his primary influence (Lipman 22).
The Sonata for Clarinet also shows how Cage used serialism to reproduce the same pitches in retrograde in the last movement from the first movement of the same composition in a highly organized fashion. Ironically, when the Sonata for Clarinet premiered, Cage found himself performing it on piano because the clarinetist was unable to do so (Nicholls 176).
Over the course of the next two years (1933-34), John Cage invented a new technique called 25-pitch non-repetitive serialism. In this technique, each voice is limited to a twenty-five note pitch area and no pitch can be repeated
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until all twenty-five have been played. He also used this technique in three additional pieces he wrote during this period: the Sonata for Two Voices (Nov. 1933), Composition for Three Voices (1934) and Solo… and Six Short Inventions (1933-34). The use of this technique was generally not harmonically sound with the exception of a few phrases (Nicholls 177).
John Cage composed two pieces in 1935 (Three Pieces for Flute Duet and Two Pieces for Piano) that also used the serialism technique. The harmony was paired with a highly chromatic melodic line that made the pieces overwhelmingly contrapuntal. However, these pieces tended to possess a higher percentage of harmonically pleasing subject matter (Nicholls 184). These works also coincided with his introduction to Merce Cunningham, an author, choreographer and Cage’s lifelong love interest. As a result, Cage began to be interested in how music correlated with dance. John Cage and Merce Cunningham collaborated to organize performances using Cage’s music and Cunningham’s choreography over the course of their lifetimes (Thomson 77).
Another interesting device John Cage used in his composition was ambient noise. In his piece 4′ 33″ (1952), a piano or any ensemble is to conduct themselves as if they were preparing to play. However, the instrument(s) or performer(s) never utter a singular sound- for the entire four minutes and
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thirty-three seconds. The idea is to attune one’s self with the ambient noise of the room, the noise entering the room from outside and the natural noises of the people within (Lipman 30). The piece has also been said to be an example of freedom in general (Brindle 122). This work had its premiere by pianist David Tudor in Woodstock, New York, on August 29, 1952, in the Maverick Concert Hall (located near where the 1969 Woodstock Festival was held). Cage (interviewed in the late 1980s by William Duckworth) stated that he listened to the piece every day and that in Indian culture, it is we that turn away from the music. However, the music is always there (Bonds 588-589).
An original device employed by John Cage was an invention all his own- the prepared piano. A prepared piano is a grand piano where the inside strings are manipulated by foreign objects to produce a twelve-tone scale. Such was the case with Cage’s composition Bacchanale (1940)- a percussive piece he was commissioned to write to be performed with a dance group. The work was originally intended for percussion instruments, but was relegated to the prepared piano when it was deemed the concert hall was too small for all of the required instrumentation. Cage required that “bolts and weatherstripping be attached to the strings connected to the 12 different notes” (Bonds 590).
John Cage’s influence in the realm of electronic music began as early as 1937. His composition Imaginary Landscape No. 1 (1939) was one of the first
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written in the electronic genre. It consisted of recording “oscillatory frequencies on two 78rpm gramophone records” (Brindle 99). He also wrote a piece comprised of fifty-one tapes (each twenty minutes long) produced on the computer system of Illinois University (Illiac) that could be played in any order along with seven live harpsichords and a light show of sorts. This piece was written in 1967 and titled HPSCHD (Brindle 125).
John Cage began to write pieces titled by the number of performers later in his life. For example, the work titled One (1987) was for one pianist. Another work, titled Five (1988) was for string quintet. These pieces are dubbed “number pieces” (Moser 31). Even these odd little pieces have a structure- the structure being the amount of time the performer has to perform each measure and the number of musicians required for performance.
As illustrated with the devices John Cage used in his compositions, his works are very structured and organized. Cage was one of the “total serialists, who felt that music composition could be planned and analyzed with the precision of scientific experiments” (Lipman 56). In his own words during a lecture in Darmstadt in 1958:
“The function of the performer… is comparable to that of someone
filling in color where outlines are given; … is that of giving form,
providing, that is to say, the morphology of the continuity, the
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expressive content; … is that of a photographer who on obtaining a camera uses it to take a picture; … is comparable to that of a
traveler who must constantly be catching trains the departures of
which have not been announced but which are in the process of
being announced” (Moser 8).
It is clear by reading these words that Cage finds his music to have form, which is a staple of Western music. In addition, his music is generally left up to the interpretation of the performer- definitively not an aspect of Western music. Even still, form is readily detectable within his works regardless of how the stated form is interpreted by the performers.
Another argument concerning music in aleatory is that there are no determinate ways to discern the number of possible arrangements. This simply is not true: “… the exact number of realizations of an indeterminate score can often be determined…” (Moser 11).
In conclusion, John Cage lived during an exciting time in American history. Just after his birth in 1912, the United States found itself fully engaged in World War I. The United States truly became a world power during this time. The enlightenment through his well-rounded and educated parents as well as the
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excitement and innovations of the new century served John Cage well, as he was able to thrive and grow as an intellectual and musician in this environment. Although his music is sounds extremely dissonant and non-harmonic, it exhibits a high amount of structure. Cage’s earlier works illustrate a mathematical approach to the music- meaning that the music makes sense based on mathematical principles, but not necessarily traditional ideals surrounding musical composition. The influence of John Cage’s music can certainly be felt today in late 20th century jazz and numerous other works that allow the performers greater freedoms. Take, for instance, the piece recently performed on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Dr. Joanna Hersey premiered a work for her Low Brass Ensemble at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke titled Sails, Whales and Whalers (2008) by Gary Buttery. This work included recorded whale song interspersed with the live music produced by the Low Brass Ensemble (Hersey & Krosschell). Perhaps Gary Buttery’s composition was influenced in some way by the works of John Cage. There is no doubt that many musicians past, present, and future have been and will continue to be influenced by Cage’s maverick attitude toward music.
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Basalt Compositions from Earth and Other Terrestrial Bodies

Basalt by definition, according to the International Union of Geological Sciences classification system, is a fine-grained igneous rock with somewhere between 45% and 53% silica (SiO2) and less than 10% feldspathoid (very similar to feldspar but with a different structure and lower silica levels)  by volume, and where at least 65% of the rock is feldspar in the form of plagioclase[1]. It is the most common volcanic rock type found on Earth and formed from the rapid cooling of magnesium-rich and iron-rich lava due to volcanic eruptions. It is a key component of the Earth’s crust, making up the majority of the oceanic floor and many the mid-oceanic islands, including Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Réunion and the islands of Hawaiʻi.

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So, where does basalt come from? Most of the basalt found on Earth has been produced either by oceanic divergent boundaries, oceanic hotspots, or mantle plumes and hotspots underneath continents. The lava when it reaches the surface, from the mantle, is about 1100 to 1250° C. It then cools over a span of a few days or weeks and forms solid igneous rock. The two types of volcanic basalt are described by the Hawaiian words ‘a’a and pahoehoe. ‘A’a basalts have rough, almost pointed, jagged surfaces, and form from fast flowing lava. While pahoehoe basalts have a smooth and odd rope like texture. The ropes or some even say waves in the rock form when the surface of the flow cools, but the lava underneath continues to move[2]. These basalts on earth have a pretty consistent make up, usually having a composition of of 45–55 wt% SiO2 (as stated above), 2–6 wt% total alkalis, 0.5–2.0 wt% TiO2, 5–14 wt% FeO and 14 wt% or more Al2O3. There is also the amounts of CaO that are commonly near 10 wt%, and of MgO which can possibly range from 5 to 12 wt%[3]. These compositions change however when one moves slightly away from our terrestrial body these compositions seem to differ.  
The closest terrestrial body to us is the moon. Now there are many hypotheses about how the moon was formed such as it is believed that the moon is essentially just a chunk of the earth that was thrown into space during a very cataclysmic event early in Earth’s history. Whatever the case may have been, the lunar basaltic compositions, although similar, differ from Earth’s is several ways. Most basalt knowledge from the moon comes from studying lunar maria which are dark, flat, and often circular regions as seen on the moon. The formation of these mare basalts was covered in Taylor (2007) and it is said that they likely originated through partial melting at depths around 300 km in the lunar interior and at temperatures of about 1200°C. The basalts are derived from the zones and mounds of minerals developed at varying depths during crystallization of the magma ocean that the moon once had. The isotopic make up of these mare basalts seem to indicate that the source region had crystallized by approximately 4.4 billion years. Partial melting then occurred hundreds of millions of years later in these mineral zones due to the buildup of heat caused by radioactive elements. Around 25 types of mare basalt were erupted over an interval of more than 1 billion years, but the total amount of melt so generated amounted to only about 0.1% of the volume of the Moon. This forms a stark contrast to the state of the Moon at accretion, when it may have been entirely molten[4].
Lunar basalt samples seem to differ most noticeably in their iron contents, which is slightly higher and usually range from about 17 to 22 wt.% FeO[5]. Lunar basalts also contain a wide range of titanium concentrations found in ilmenite, ranging from less than 1 wt.% TiO2, to up to around 13 wt.%[6]. This has led to most lunar basalts being classified according to their titanium content, with classes being high-titanium, low-titanium, and very-low-titanium. Global geochemical maps of titanium acquired from the Clementine mission demonstrated that the lunar maria possess a wide range of titanium concentrations, and that the highest concentrations are the least abundant. These varying concentrations most likely reflect the relative abundances and lack of abundance of ilmenite mantle sources in certain areas. This theory is backed by the distribution being consistent with the models of the formation of mare source regions from the lunar magma ocean5.
The second terrestrial body that is known for its basalts is in fact another planet, Mars. As mentioned above the most common form of volcanism on the Earth is basaltic, and this is most likely the truth when it comes to Mars as well. One key difference, however, between the two bodies is their slight differences in formations due to the differing environments. On Earth, magma that forms basalts usually erupts as highly fluid flows, which can emerge either directly from vents or other sources already stated. Although these styles are also common on Mars, the lower gravity and lower atmospheric pressure on the planet allows formation of gas bubbles to occur more frequently and at greater depths than on our planet. As a result, Martian basaltic volcanoes are also able to have Plinian or Vesuvian-style eruptions and throw out large quantities of ash. These eruptions of course being named after the infamous eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The lower gravity of Mars also generates less buoyancy forces on magma rising through the crust, therefore if magma on Mars is able to climb and get close enough to the surface to erupt before solidifying, it is most likely quite a large body. This in turn means that eruptions on Mars are less frequent than on Earth but are on a much more enormous in scale and eruptive rate[7]. In somewhat puzzling fashion however, the lower gravity of Mars also allows for longer and more widespread lava flows. Lava eruptions on Mars have the potential to be unimaginably huge, such as one the size of the state of Oregon that has been recently has discovered in western Elysium Planitia[8]. The flow is believed to be one of the youngest lava flows on Mars and happened over the course of several weeks.
With only slight differences in the formation processes of Martian basalt and Earth basalts, it is no surprise that the two terrestrial bodies have very similar chemical compositions when it comes to their igneous rocks. It has been determined that the dominant surface rocks on Mars are tholeiitic basalts that were most likely formed by partial melting and do not show signs of any extreme weathering. In October of 2012, the Curiosity rover at the Rocknest site on Mars performed the first diffraction analysis of Martian soil and chemically revealed the presence of several minerals all usually present is basalts. This included feldspar, pyroxenes and olivine, and it is said that the Martian soil sample from this particular area had characteristics similar to weathered basaltic rocks of the Hawaiian Islands[9].
The chemical composition of these basalts has been studied through the testing of shergottite meteorite (named after the Shergotty meteorite) basalts. These tests can and have provided important knowledge on magma origin and mantle processes in Mars and were highlighted by Trieman (2003). From these analyses of the Martian meteorites two separate groups were created. These two groups are aptly named Group 1 (Gl), which includes highly incompatible elements such as La and Th and Group 2 (G2), which includes moderately incompatible elements such as Ti, Lu, and Al. Correlated variations of these G2 is consistent with partitioning between basalt magma and pyroxene and olivine. This fractionation is a result of partial melting to form the shergottites and their crystallization. All in all, abundances of Gl elements are separate from those of G2. When comparing abundances of Gl elements with the abundances of G2 elements, the ratios do not appear to be random, however, shergottites with a certain ratio do not necessarily have the same crystallization age and may also not fall on a single fractionation trajectory. These observations point to the G1/G2 families being established before basalt formation. It also suggests enrichment of their source region of high G2 elements, by a GI rich component. It would seem that Group 1 elements were efficiently separated from G2 elements very early in Mars’ history. The efficiency at which the fractionation seemed to have occurred is not consistent with simple petrogenesis; it requires many fractionations, and a more complex process[10]. The behavior of phosphorus in these early fractionation events is unheard of and hard to explain by normal processes and minerals. Several explanations have been brought up, however, and are possible.
As one can see, basalt seems to be a consistent entity on several terrestrial bodies in space. Although I did not delve into other bodies, they do include the asteroid Vesta and other terrestrial planets where basalt has been found. These basalts can tell us a lot about formation and mantle/magma processes of terrestrial bodies, yet there is still much to learn. I feel that the desire to find similarities between earth and other bodies gives us hope and the idea that there is the possibility that we will find a similar planet to ours.
References

Bas, M. J. Le, and A. L. Streckeisen. “The IUGS Systematics of Igneous Rocks.” Journal of the Geological Society, vol. 148, no. 5, 1991, pp. 825–833. GeoScienceWorld, doi:10.1144/gsjgs.148.5.0825.
“Basalt.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Dec. 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basalt#Morphology_and_textures.
“Basalt Rocks.” Windows to the Universe, 1 Nov. 2005, https://www.windows2universe.org/earth/geology/ig_basalt.html.
Giguere, Thomas A., et al. “The Titanium Contents of Lunar Mare Basalts.” Meteoritics & Planetary Science, vol. 35, no. 1, 4 Feb. 2000, pp. 193–200. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/j.1945-5100.2000.tb01985.x.
Grotzinger, J. P. “Analysis of Surface Materials by the Curiosity Mars Rover.” Science, vol. 341, no. 6153, 2013, pp. 1475–1475., doi:10.1126/science.1244258.
Jaeger, W.l., et al. “Emplacement of the Youngest Flood Lava on Mars: A Short, Turbulent Story.” Icarus, vol. 205, no. 1, Jan. 2010, pp. 230–243., doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2009.09.011.
Ling, Zongcheng, et al. “Correlated Compositional and Mineralogical Investigations at the Chang′e-3 Landing Site.” Nature Communications, vol. 6, no. 1, 22 Dec. 2015, doi:10.1038/ncomms9880.
Mcsween, H. Y., et al. “Elemental Composition of the Martian Crust.” Science, vol. 324, no. 5928, 7 May 2009, pp. 736–739., doi:10.1126/science.1165871.
Program, Volcano Hazards. “Basalts.” USGS, 8 Apr. 2015, https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/vsc/glossary/basalt.html.
“NASA.gov.” NASA.gov, 30 Oct. 2012, https://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/oct/HQ_12-383_Curiosity_CheMin.html.
Taylor, Stuart Ross. “The Moon.” Encyclopedia of the Solar System, 2007, pp. 227–250. Science Direct, doi:10.1016/b978-012088589-3/50016-5.
Treiman, Allan H. “Chemical Compositions of Martian Basalts (Shergottites): Some Inferences on b; Formation, Mantle Metasomatism, and Differentiation in Mars.” Meteoritics & Planetary Science, vol. 38, no. 12, 2003, pp. 1849–1864. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/j.1945-5100.2003.tb00019.x.
Vickers, Les, et al. Fire-Resistant Geopolymers: Role of Fibres and Fillers to Enhance Thermal Properties. Springer, 2015.
Wilson, Lionel, and James W. Head. “Mars: Review and Analysis of Volcanic Eruption Theory and Relationships to Observed Landforms.” Reviews of Geophysics, vol. 32, no. 3, Aug. 1994, pp. 221–263. AGU100, doi:10.1029/94rg01113.

[1] Bas, M. J. Le, and A. L. Streckeisen. “The IUGS Systematics of Igneous Rocks.” Journal of the Geological Society, vol. 148, no. 5, 1991, pp. 825–833. GeoScienceWorld, doi:10.1144/gsjgs.148.5.0825.
[2]“Basalt Rocks.” Windows to the Universe, 1 Nov. 2005, https://www.windows2universe.org/earth/geology/ig_basalt.html.
[3]Vickers, Les, et al. Fire-Resistant Geopolymers: Role of Fibres and Fillers to Enhance Thermal Properties. Springer, 2015.
[4] Taylor, Stuart Ross. “The Moon.” Encyclopedia of the Solar System, 2007, pp. 227–250. Science Direct, doi:10.1016/b978-012088589-3/50016-5.
[5]Ling, Zongcheng, et al. “Correlated Compositional and Mineralogical Investigations at the Chang′e-3 Landing Site.” Nature Communications, vol. 6, no. 1, 22 Dec. 2015, doi:10.1038/ncomms9880.
[6] Giguere, Thomas A., et al. “The Titanium Contents of Lunar Mare Basalts.” Meteoritics & Planetary Science, vol. 35, no. 1, 4 Feb. 2000, pp. 193–200. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/j.1945-5100.2000.tb01985.x.
[7]Wilson, Lionel, and James W. Head. “Mars: Review and Analysis of Volcanic Eruption Theory and Relationships to Observed Landforms.” Reviews of Geophysics, vol. 32, no. 3, Aug. 1994, pp. 221–263. AGU100, doi:10.1029/94rg01113.
[8] Jaeger, W.l., et al. “Emplacement of the Youngest Flood Lava on Mars: A Short, Turbulent Story.” Icarus, vol. 205, no. 1, Jan. 2010, pp. 230–243., doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2009.09.011.
[9] “NASA.gov.” NASA.gov, 30 Oct. 2012, https://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/oct/HQ_12-383_Curiosity_CheMin.html.
[10] Treiman, Allan H. “Chemical Compositions of Martian Basalts (Shergottites): Some Inferences on b; Formation, Mantle Metasomatism, and Differentiation in Mars.” Meteoritics & Planetary Science, vol. 38, no. 12, 2003, pp. 1849–1864. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/j.1945-5100.2003.tb00019.x.