Opening the ears and shaping the work of composers as different as Frank Zappa, Brian Eno, and minimalist John Adams, John Cage’s music never conformed to anyone’s expectations of high art. It’s anyone’s guess what posterity will make of his piece for 12 radios tuned to different stations, his opus for a pianist sitting silently for nearly five minutes (titled ”4’33””), or his work for the hour-long churning of electric blenders. But the legacy of Cage, who died of a stroke Aug. 12 at age 79, outweighs even his immense output. He was 20th-century music’s great liberating spirit, the man who playfully and radically redefined the act of composition.
Cage made noise with anything and everything-an ”orchestra” of brake drums, streetcar springs, and metal plates, or pianos ”prepared” with screws, nails, and other hardware. ”Everything we do,” he said, ”is music.” From the edges of the avant-garde to the use of ”reality sounds” in TV commercials, those words changed the way we think about music, and changed the way we hear. Cage’s best work includes Arditti Quartet Thirty Pieces for String Quartet, Music for Four (Mode) and Joan LaBarbara, Margaret Leng Tan Four Walls, Perilous Night (New Albion)