Where do YOU draw the line?

by cgallopo

In our latest class discussion, we touched upon the likes of John Cage and Alison Knowles, two performers whose performances blur the lines between music, performance art, and something completely different. With performances ranging from the absurd “Shoes of your choice” from Alison Knowles, in which the performer puts his or her shoes on a music stand and then speaks about them for an undetermined amount of time, to John Cage’s “4’33””, in which the performer lifts the lid of the piano and then sits in silence for four minutes and thirty-three seconds.

Now, before this goes any further, let me preface this post by saying two things: first of all, I’m a huge fan of John Cage – I was introduced to his compositions in a music class my freshman year and have had an affinity and an appreciation for him ever since. Second, I do intend to open up a class-wide discussion on what we consider music, or performance art, or simply a lady talking about her shoes. I am genuinely curious about the class’s opinion, because I do not consider the aforementioned compositions (and others like them) to be music.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines music as “the science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity”. Although I am certainly not opposed to learning about performance artists pushing the limits of expression, I’m not sure that “Shoes of your choice” in any way fits the definition of music. In a class titled 1000 Years of Musical Listening, I am asking the open question of “where does this fit?” Clearly it lies somewhere along the music spectrum, or it would not have been introduced in class; I am curious as to how others delineate their respective spectrums, and whether or not they include Alison Knowles and John Cage.

The music class that I referred to in the second paragraph was MUSC-016 The Technologies of Listening. In this class, we explored the idea of sound, the reproduction of sound, and silence; it was John Cage’s fascination with absolute silence that intrigued me the most. He went so far as to visit an anechoic chamber at Harvard to experience the quietest place on earth. While Cage compositions are fascinating, my music spectrum is such that these pieces lay beyond it’s boundaries.

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